Although last week’s by-elections exposed cracks in Labour, it’s Ukip that has gone into free fall as a result. After Paul Nuttall failed to win in Stoke-on-Trent Central, both Nigel Farage and chief donor Arron Banks were quick to go on the attack. Over the weekend, Banks called for Nuttall to make him party chairman or else. Now both Farage and Banks are gunning for Douglas Carswell to be expelled from the party over reports that Ukip’s only MP frustrated Farage’s chances of being awarded a knighthood (it turns out that the anti-establishment politician is okay with some aspects of the establishment after all).
Banks has since promised to run against Carswell in Clacton at the first opportunity — while it’s rumoured that Carswell’s office is currently photo-copying 5000 copies of Farage’s anti-Carswell Telegraph editorial to distribute in Frinton-on-Sea. If you’re finding this hard to keep up with, don’t worry — it’s all likely to change again within the hour anyway. But what this series of events highlights is that Nuttall’s promise to unite the party as leader is failing to come to fruition.
In defence of Farage, his faction of the party have reason to take issue with Carswell — though not for the reason they say. Since the referendum, the former Tory MP has admitted that he defected to Ukip in an attempt to neutralise what he saw to be a toxic party that could put voters off backing Brexit in the referendum. But Farage and Banks’s issues with the party run deeper than Carswell. They see figures like Suzanne Evans and Patrick O’Flynn as closet Tories who wish to make Ukip into a centre ground party — rather than one that is radical.
Whichever side you are on, the idea of Banks running against Carswell in Clacton — where his majority is just 3,437 — is self-defeating. It would just help the Tories to win back the seat by dividing would-be Ukip voters. As ever, the party’s leading figures continue to be more intent on fighting one another than their real opponents. But this time it looks more fatal as the glue has gone. Before the referendum the party could at least all agree on one thing — the need to leave the EU. With that issue now a reality, Ukip looks set to become the mayfly of British politics — the act of giving birth is what could kill it.