Ukip’s autumn conference kicks off tomorrow in Bournemouth. With the new leader set to be announced, there had been hopes the two-day event would mark the beginning of a new exciting post-Brexit era for the party. Instead, the party faces questions over whether there should be a second chapter at all.
Steve Stanbury, Ukip’s former director, has appeared on the Daily Politics today to announce that he has defected to the Tories. In the interview with Jo Coburn, Stanbury said he believed the party’s best days were behind it now it has achieved the ‘principle objective’ of securing — and winning — an EU referendum. He says he hopes his Ukip colleagues will follow suit and ‘come home’ back to the Conservative party.
While Stanbury thinks the party’s issues run deeper than a lacklustre leadership campaign, it certainly hasn’t helped that there isn’t a candidate to get excited about. Since Steven Woolfe’s exclusion from the contest, it has been a muted race with the majority of the public not knowing who the candidates are. A survey by BMG Research found that at least eight out of 10 people have never heard of each of the six candidates.
Diane James is the most well-known (and thought to be the favourite) but she has shown what could be interpreted as a lack of enthusiasm — boycotting hustings and not putting any new policies forward. What’s more, some Ukip figures hope that if elected tomorrow, she will serve as a stalking horse until the party can run a new leadership race — or have Nigel Farage unresign (again) and make a comeback.
With concern growing among Tories that Theresa May will opt for a soft Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour reaching new lows in opinion polls, there ought to be an opportunity for Ukip to capitalise on disillusioned voters from the two main parties. However unless they get their act together soon, they will struggle to keep the supporters they have — let alone build on them.