UKIP failed to topple Labour in a by-election described by Nigel Farage as a “fundamental” test for the party. But in a bruising loss for Labour on the same night, the Conservatives snatched a formerly safe seat.
The future of the anti-European Union UK Independence Party (UKIP) was cast into doubt on Thursday following a by-election defeat in what was seen as a Brexit heartland.
Britain’s Labour party fought off defeat in the by-election of Stoke-on-Trent where the anti-immigration party’s new leader Paul Nuttall was running as the party’s candidate.
Labour’s Gareth Snell won with 7,583 votes and Nuttall took 5,233.
“Over the last few weeks, a city dubbed by some as the capital of Brexit has once again proved to the world that we are so much more than that,” Snell said in his victory speech.
“This city will not allow ourselves to be defined by last years referendum and we will not allow ourselves to be divided by the result.”
Stoke recorded the strongest support for Brexit from all of Britain’s major cities in last June’s referendum even though its Labour MP, Tristram Hunt, opposed it.
Nuttall had be hoping to build on the widespread sense of alienation from mainstream politics and to prove the party had a future after securing its goal to leave the EU and following the departure of its figurehead Nigel Farage.
The party was greatly invested in the by-election, taking over a former bakery in the main shopping district for their campaign headquarters.
“What we’ve got to do is to come in, garner those votes and turn the capital of Brexit into the capital of change,” Nuttall said ahead of the election.
But his party had been filled with infighting and his campaign was mired in controversy after he falsely claimed to have lost close friends in the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster, which killed 96 people.
Moving beyond brexit
Former UKIP leader Farage said a failure to win in an area with such strong support for its core objective would call in to question whether the party was capable of usurping Labour to become Britain’s official opposition.
“I don’t think anybody for one moment can underplay just how important, just how fundamental that by-election is for the futures of both the Labour Party and indeed of UKIP too,” Farage told UKIP’s Spring conference last week.
Across Britain,most Labour voters supported Brexit while most of their MPs opposed it, a gap that the party is still struggling with as Prime Minister Theresa May prepares to start the withdrawal process within weeks.
Copeland by-election loss
Labour lost a separate by-election race on Wednesday night in the northwestern region of Copeland where May’s Conservatives scored a landmark victory for the first time in 80 years.
Trudy Harrison unseated Labour’s Gill Troughton with a 6.7 percent swing 13,748 votes to 11,601. UKIP scored just 7 percent of the vote.
“We’ve had Labour here for more than 80 years but it has been very clear talking people in this campaign that Jeremy Corbyn does’t represent them,” Harrison said.
Both regions are traditional Labour areas so the specter of UKIP illustrated how last year’s vote to leave the European Union redrew the British political map, pitching voters in poorer provincial regions of the country against a largely pro-EU section of the electorate based in larger cities.
aw/rc (AFP, Reuters)