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Farewell, Douglas Carswell – where next for UKIP?

Image: Channel 4
Image: Channel 4
Image: Channel 4

Whatever the result of the June 2016 referendum, the future of UKIP was in doubt. Should the public vote for the country to remain part of the European Union, UKIP would continue making the case for withdrawal despite the public’s disapproval; and should the public choose to abandon the project, UKIP would remain a fighting force to see the separation through to the end.

When ‘Brexit’ was the answer, UKIP had won. After years of campaigning and criticism of the Brussels bureaucrats, assisted by Labour and Conservative Eurosceptics like Gisela Stuart and Daniel Hannan, it was time to celebrate.

A year and a half later, UKIP is battered and bruised, quickly losing its leading names. Nigel Farage, for many years the public face of the party (so famous that his resignation was rejected by the national committee). has finally departed the leadership and is busily building his reputation as a right-wing pundit and ally of Donald Trump on the other side of the Atlantic. Farage’s immediate successor as leader, Diane James, lasted eighteen days in the top spot before stepping down. Stephen Woolfe, arguably the most respectable politician in the party, departed its ranks after a violent encounter with another member, Mike Hookem. And of course, Paul Nuttall, the incumbent leader, has thrown his credibility to the wind after lying about his personal connection to victims of the Hillsborough disaster.

Now the party’s sole Member of Parliament, Douglas Carswell, has thrown in the towel. Carswell was the party’s first representative in the House of Commons, defecting from the Conservative Party in 2014 and inspiring another disenchanted Tory, Mark Reckless, to follow suit. Reckless was not reelected in the national election of 2015 and Carswell’s departure means that UKIP’s concerns will now be voiced outside of Parliament.

Over time, Carswell fell out of favour with other party bigwigs. Clearly keen for a chance to give Carswell a political kicking for his stubbornness, several UKIP members have demanded that he calls a by-election as soon as possible. Soon after he announced that he would be an independent MP, Farage Tweeted:

In spite of Carswell’s unpopularity within the party, UKIP is on borrowed time, without the parliamentary presence that had granted it so much attention in previous months and no longer an active voice in mainstream politics. They’ve got what they wanted – for the public to vote for getting out of the EU – so why bother existing at all?

However, though the party’s name points pretty clearly to a large political demand, UKIP stands for many other political goals and ideas. The Eurosceptics earned 12.6% of the national vote in the 2015 election, the same value as a combination of the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalist Party. Though its voice in the Commons has gone, UKIP still maintains a loud voice in the national political discourse.

The party’s membership is composed of a wide range of voters, many of whom have defected from larger parties. UKIP appeals to many disenchanted Labour voters who seek a party that will represent the forgotten British working class. Labour, the party contends, is still divorced from the concerns of the typical Briton, even with a veteran socialist at the helm. UKIP aims to do better in areas in which the Labour Party should be making progress, taking a strong stance against tax avoidance, pushing for more funding for the NHS, demanding political reform and looking for solutions to the problem of homelessness.

UKIP also nips at the heels of the Conservative Party, appealing to voters who distrust the centrism and concessions to social liberalism of the Cameron era, or the sort-of-conservatism of the current Premier. No sex education in primary school, having “a grammar school in every town,” doing away with HS2, scepticism of wind energy and reducing red tape wrapping itself around small businesses; UKIP caters for the old-school Conservative voter very well.

UKIP’s primary mission is well on the way to being accomplished, but it does not necessarily mean that the party is on course for dissolution. UKIP still attracts dissidents from the main political parties who believe that Labour and the Conservatives do not have their interests at heart. Until they reach out to the dissatisfied, UKIP will continue to persist as a political alternative.