POLITICS
04/05/2018 14:25 BST

Analysis: Ukip Suffers Its Own 'Black Death' In The Local Elections

But for some, the cure will be worse than the disease

PA Wire/PA Images
Ukip leader Gerard Batten did not have a happy night

As political spin strategies go, comparing your party to the Black Death is certainly novel.

But the claim by Ukip’s General Secretary, made as the local election results came flooding in, is very much in keeping with a party that is proud of not playing by the book.

Indeed in 2014, when these council seats were last up for grabs, Ukip had something of the plague about it. Borne across England on the back of eurosceptism, the Ukip fleas attached themselves to councils such Labour-led Bolton, Conservative-controlled Havant and Lib Dem-dependent Portsmouth.

Four years on, and it seems the cure to the Ukip plague has swept through town and county halls. The anti-EU party is down more than 120 seats, with the only fleck of purple on the election results map coming in Burnley, and Derby – where Ukip actually ousted the Labour leader.

Among the losses across the country was MEP Bill Etheridge, who saw his seat on Dudley council switch to the Conservatives. “We’ve all been obliterated,” he declared, going on to announce he would be quitting politics entirely next year unless Ukip changes its leader.

In Basildon, Essex, 10 of Ukip’s 15 councillors were up for election – and they all lost, with the Conservatives (up 5), Labour (3) and Independents (2) sharing the spoils.

Some Ukippers even disguised themselves as another party entirely to try to cling on. In January, all 17 Ukip councillors on Thurrock Council, just down the road from Basildon, resigned from the party in protest at Henry Bolton’s leadership. They rebadged themselves as the Thurrock Independents but voters weren’t fooled. Just one survived: Tim Aker, once a rising star of the party, who bizarrely still sits as a UKIP MEP in Brussels.  

Where did the Ukip vote go? In Dudley, where Etheridge lost, the Conservatives were the main beneficiaries, with all seven Ukip seats going Tory. Wakefield, Walsall and North East Lincolnshire also saw purple wards turn blue.

Labour benefited in Plymouth and Portsmouth, but indications show it is the Conservatives that have won more from Ukip’s decline.

As for what caused that decline, it does not take a political genius to conclude that if your main – perhaps only – policy is now being pursued by the party in government, it’s difficult to get people to rally to your flag.

Even Ukip’s sub-policies are now mainstream. Tighter controls on immigration is the obvious example, and until the Windrush scandal the Tories were happy to dial up the rhetoric to 11 to drown out the Ukip voice when it comes to controlling the country’s borders.

As well as migration and the EU, Ukip took a machine gun to key principles of David Cameron’s ‘Compassionate Conservative’. Many of that philosophy’s key tenets have now also been axed by the Tory leadership – in the case of the Department for Energy and Climate Change, literally. 

With Ukip’s greatest hits, and even its album tracks, now the soundtrack to the Government - together with leadership changes at a rate which makes Theresa May’s cabinet look positively strong and stable - it’s not hard to see why the party is facing a terminal decline.

But before the party’s enemies take too much glee at Ukip’s demise, just consider the legacy it leaves. The UK is leaving the EU. It achieved what it set out to do, without even a sniff of real power.

Most parties suffer from self-inflicted wounds, but Ukip is suffering from a self-inflicted cure of the UK’s EU membership. Last time these council seats were up for grabs, it was just months before two Tory MPs defected to Ukip. Many of Ukip’s opponents - and increasingly it seems, its supporters - would argue the majority of the Tory party followed suit in the years that followed.