Ukip says it will contest ‘vast majority’ of seats in British election

Leader Paul Nuttall says he won’t resign if party wins no seats in June election

Ukip leader Paul Nuttall:  said that June contest is a “Brexit election” on “Ukip’s turf”, and rubbished reports that the party is  badly organised and funded. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Ukip leader Paul Nuttall: said that June contest is a “Brexit election” on “Ukip’s turf”, and rubbished reports that the party is badly organised and funded. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

 

The UK Independence Party (Ukip) will contest the “vast majority” of seats in June’s British general election, Paul Nuttall, its leader, has insisted, scotching reports that poor organisation and a lack of funds could limit it to as few as one in six.

Ukip would not stand in “tens” of seats where there was a chance that “true Brexiters” would be defeated by Remain candidates, Mr Nuttall said on Friday.

He called for the party to better focus its resources to avoid a repeat of the 2015 general election, when it won 13 per cent of the popular vote but just one seat under the UK’s first-past-the-post electoral system.

“Vote share is important but it isn’t that important,” Mr Nuttall told a campaign launch in London, which was interrupted by far-left protesters. “We’ve got to target more sensibly this time round.”

Tactical rethink

The tactical rethink comes after Ukip’s opinion poll ratings fell behind those of the Liberal Democrats. Ukip’s funding and membership has dropped, and the anti-EU party is contesting fewer than half the seats up for grabs in England’s local election on May 4th.

I think we will have seats in the House of Commons after this election

Matthew Goodwin, a fellow at the Chatham House think-tank, said there was “clear evidence that lots of Ukippers have put on parachutes and are jumping out of the plane”.

Mr Nuttall is under severe scrutiny as leader following his defeat in the Stoke-on-Trent Central byelection in February. He has promised to stand again in June, and is due to announce his chosen seat on Saturday.

On Friday, he called June’s contest a “Brexit election” on “Ukip’s turf”, but said he would not resign if the party ended up with no seats.

“I think we will have seats in the House of Commons after this election . . . Would I resign [if Ukip won zero seats]? I don’t think I would.”

Ground to exploit

Despite her commitment to take the UK out of the EU, Theresa May has left Ukip some ground to exploit. The prime minister’s promise to maintain overseas aid at 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product contrasts with Ukip’s pledged cut of 80 per cent. Ms May has refused to rule out paying into the EU budget after Brexit, while Ukip has called for no contributions.

Mr Nuttall has sought to distinguish Ukip by focusing on cultural concerns around immigration and Islam. On Friday, he promised to investigate Ukip members accused of making offensive remarks about Islam.

Gerard Batten MEP, Ukip’s Brexit secretary, who is seeking to stand against Ms May in Maidenhead, last month called Islam a “death cult”.

Mr Goodwin suggested the defection of Ukip voters to the Conservatives could be bad news for the Lib Dems, who would struggle to win seats in the south-west.

Survey

A survey last December by the British Electoral Study found that 58 per cent of 2015 Ukip voters still intended to vote for the party, with 16 per cent shifting to the Conservatives and 20 per cent undecided. However, Mr Goodwin said the 58 per cent was not made up of loyalists, and they could help to trigger Conservative victories in seats from Ilford North to North East Derbyshire.

Separately, a YouGov poll this week found a plurality of Ukip and Conservative voters think it would be better for Britain if Marine Le Pen won the French presidential run-off. Supporters of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National party were more than twice as likely to choose the centrist Emmanuel Macron.

– (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017)