I spent three weekends up in Stoke canvassing on the doorstep in both Labour and Conservative areas and found the people of the city to be very friendly, open-minded and approachable, regardless of their politics. The operation and co-ordination on the ground was immense. It was well-run by Lisa Duffy and her team. The call to arms went out and hundreds of loyal UKIP party activists turned up from all over the country to help their new leader Paul Nuttall get elected in Stoke Central. However, it was my personal view that it was a mistake not to stand a local candidate. The UKIP Stoke Chairman Mick Harold was very popular. He knew the area and the local issues, but the party decided to go for that knockout blow with Paul Nuttall deep behind enemy lines.
Trying to overturn a 5000 vote majority is a tall order for anyone. Nigel Farage failed on seven attempts to get into Westminster. The moment our leader stood the press were out to get him. We allowed the opposition to attack Paul yet we failed to attack the Labour candidate when he found himself in hot water over remarks towards women, for which he was forced to apologise. At times it felt like we were too mainstream and campaigning just like the other parties, which is not what we’re about. It should tell it like it is. That’s always been our strength and has served us well in the past.
In my opinion, Paul needs to stand in a marginal seat (less than 2000 vote margin) to have a realistic chance of winning. As a party, lessons will be learned and we will come back stronger for it. We need more radical policies aimed at the British working class communities while promoting ourselves first and underpinning our libertarian values. Whilst campaigning in Stoke, I spoke to college students who weren’t aware that it was UKIP policy to abolish tuition fees for ‘STEM’ subjects, so the message isn’t getting out to the masses. I spoke to Conservatives who said they were happy with how May was handling things since the Referendum. When I pushed them about voting tactically to oust Labour in Stoke as they had no chance of winning the seat I got the impression that they weren’t going to do that. Some said they probably weren’t going to vote anyway this time around. Not the answer I wanted to hear at the end of the day. I met Labour voters who said they would be voting UKIP this time but most of the disillusioned Labour voters I met clearly said they wouldn’t be voting Labour, but nor would they be voting for anybody else.
On the night of the count itself in Stoke, when the voter percentage was known, I knew the writing was on the wall. The numbers were too low and we needed a higher turnout to win.
It was a daring plan. For Paul Nuttall to go from the front like that was courageous. The idea, intention and logistics were all there on the ground and the People’s Army of UKIP gave it their all, but just like that famous WWII operation to shorten the war by six months, Stoke was our Arnhem.