“In politics, you live by the sword and you die by the sword,” said one candidate who suffered a surprising defeat in the British election held yesterday. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) also learned that lesson the hard way.
Formed in 1991 and renamed in 1993, UKIP has always been a single-issue party. It wanted the UK to leave the EU, and it slowly built momentum gaining more than 3% of the national vote in the 2010 election. Though it never won a seat in Parliament until then, it did build a formidable presence in the European Parliament—an irony that many of its members were being paid by an institution it was always trying to undermine.
Then came its moment in the sun. In the 2014 European parliament election, it won 24 seats with more than 27% of the total vote and became the first party in 100 years that was not the Tories or Labour to win a nationwide election. In the 2015 general election, UKIP gained 12% of the national vote and ended up with its first seat in Parliament. That rising pressure made the Conservatives offer a referendum on EU membership if it won an outright majority—which it surprised almost everyone by doing.
The rise in the Eurosceptic vote, from the UKIP perspective, delivered the surprising Brexit vote in the 2016 referendum. To Nigel Farage, UKIP’s leader then, the referendum result was the ultimate victory. Though he stepped down from leadership of the party, he basked in the far-right glory that seemed on the rise across the western world with Donald Trump in the US and Marine Le Pen in France.
Less than a year since that vote, things look bleak for UKIP. For the 2017 general election, its new leader, Paul Nuttall, tried to make the party stand for something more than delivering Brexit, which had been captured by British prime minister Theresa May and her Conservative Party as their primary job. So the UKIP manifesto promised to invest billions in the National Health Service, lower taxes, build 100,000 new homes, even abolish some university tuition fees, and turn the color of the British passport back to blue.
The voters bought none of it. UKIP’s national vote share fell to less than 2%; it won no seats.
“It’s not been very well run,” Farage admitted to the BBC. “It’s not been professional.” He said that if the UK ends up staying in the EU’s Single Market—and thus accepted free movement of people—which may happen as the vote also weakened the Conservatives, UKIP voters will be back in the millions.
Nuttall quit today and the party is now leaderless. “If people don’t get the kind of Brexit they voted for, I would have no choice but to involve myself again with full-time campaigning,” Farage previously said, hinting at a comeback.
The trouble is, a one-trick pony eventually bores every one.