by Kevin Meagher
So Nigel Farage has decided to act strategically rather than tactically by not putting himself forward for the Newark by-election.
He knows two things only too well. The first and most obvious is that because he’s so publicly the face of UKIP, he cannot damage his own brand – and by extension the party’s – by standing and losing.
Second, he knows his party’s organisation isn’t yet strong enough to take on the other parties polished by-election operations in a tough fight.
Announcing his decision on Radio Four’s Today programme this morning to accusations he was “frit”, Farage described himself as “a fighter and a warrior but I am determined to pick my battles”.
To continue the military analogies, Farage knows that he’s successful at hit-and-run tactical opportunism and runs a good air war, using his media profile to good effect to rain down rhetorical bombs on the Tories’ crumbling fortifications.
But when it comes to the ground war – where elections are won and lost – Farage’s troops are still raw recruits, while his boots are more used to treading the manicured lawn of College Green than Newark High Street.
UKIP seemed genuinely put out at Labour’s postal vote operation in the Wythenshawe by-election in February, with Farage claiming: “I have been on benders for longer than the opening of the nominations and the start of the postal ballots. This has been a farce.”
If he doesn’t understand how the postal vote system works in elections, then he really isn’t ready for close electoral combat.
But UKIP is learning. Building membership and organisation, getting tough with errant candidates, learning political tradecraft and raising enough cash to keep the show on the road is the boring bit of politics. But without it, UKIP has no chance of making a breakthrough.
Farage knows this. He is biding his time, hoping that he turns his barmy army into crack shots in time for next year’s general election.
Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut