by Kevin Meagher
There’s a party leadership contest going on that could have a profound effect on Labour, but its not the one between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith.
Five candidates are currently limbering up to succeed Nigel Farage as the leader of UKIP and the implicaitons for Labour are very real. Having led the charge to get Britain out of the European Union, UKIP now has plenty time on its sides.
Where will the ‘kippers political energy and capital now go? Perhaps it will channel into building support in the 44 parliamentary seats where they are in second place to Labour, following last May’s general election.
Having neglected its heartlands for so long (and not particularly caring what voters there think), Labour now has a fight on its hands on hold on to some of them. But does the party actually recognise the threat?
Despite their other differences, what unites Blairites and Corbynistas is an unshakable belief that only racists are bothered about immigration and that London is the centre of the universe.
There is plenty political space (both physical and metaphysical) that Labour has chosen to abandon that UKIP is more than willing to fill, providing a sympathetic ear to provincial woes. All the more so if Labour continues to indulge its infantile gesture politics.
That said, UKIP still retains a massive inbuilt propensity to blow itself apart.
Whatever the liberal-left thinks about Nigel Farage, his straight-talking, un-PC, ‘flag and freedom’ shtick resounded with at least four million voters who backed the party in last year’s general election.
But will his successor be able to build on that?
Guido Fawkes reports on efforts to deny Steven Woolfe, one of the party’s rising stars and an MEP for the North West, a place on the leadership shortlist. He is said to have Farage’s support which seems enough to damn him in the eyes of others.
The national executive committee is said to be ‘dominated’ by supporters of Neil Hamilton (yes, that Neil Hamilton) who are said to want to keep Woolfe off the leadership ballot.
This is symptomatic of UKIP’s immaturity. Like Labour, it enjoys wallowing in its own comfort zone. In this case, the rugby club bar, (as one of its other talents, Suzanne Evans, who has already been denied the chance to stand, put it the other day).
Now it turns out Woolfe’s leadership application wasn’t accepted by the cut-off (although he has a receipt for the deposit that shows it was submitted on-time). His fate is set to be decided by party officials tomorrow.
While the likes of Hamilton have zero affinity with the industrial north and midlands, Woolfe is someone Labour should be genuinely concerned about. The party’s immigration spokesman, a barrister by profession, was brought up in inner-city Manchester. And, not to labour the point, he is also mixed race. In fact, he would be the first leader of a major British political party to be so.
His victory in the leadership race would single-handedly rebrand and reboot UKIP.
With the party’s deputy leader, Paul Nuttall, mysteriously ruling himself out, Woolfe is the best choice from an otherwise weak field. (Nuttall is a huge loss for the party. He is one of the few ‘kippers properly road-tested and tough enough to withstand the brickbats that will be thrown at Farage’s successor).
It’s a mark of how discombobulated Labour currently is that the goings on in UKIP should merit close attention. (Indeed, studying the Kremlinology of UKIP is a somewhat otherworldly new experience).
But nothing is inevitable at the moment and with UKIP polling in the mid-teens, it is entirely plausible an early general election could see Labour lose seats to a Woolfe-led party.
After being the poster boy for Tory sleaze back in 1997, Labour should perhaps hope Neil Hamilton is willing to damage a second political party and keep Woolfe off the shortlist.
Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut