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Wednesday, April 30, 2014 

A faint heart never won fair Newark.

Nigel Farage is not frit. Not at all. That the speculation he would stand in the Newark by-election began the second former friend of this blog Patrick Mercer announced his resignation doesn't mean it came from Farage himself. I mean, he obviously thought about it, as the leader of any insurgent party would, but after having consulted with his secretary/wife and his tabloid spin doctor and then sleeping on it, he decided against. It would be opportunistic, and if there's one thing the UKIPs aren't, it's opportunistic.

He also doesn't have any link with the constituency, or rather his party doesn't.  Something few picked up on until late on in the campaign in Eastleigh was the UKIPs had a ground organisation too, not on the scale of the Lib Dems, which was the difference, but it was there. All the same, contrary to the opinion of others, to me it seems like a poor decision on the part of Farage. He is after all in the ascendant, at the moment probably the only politician rivalling the prime minister in terms of coverage. Should the UKIPs triumph in the European elections as new polling suggests, it would surely provide additional momentum ahead of next year's general election. It obviously wouldn't prompt David Cameron's resignation as Farage hubristically claimed, but it would give some credence to his other wishful claim that they can hold the balance of power after the election.

After all, it's one thing to win the European elections or give a major shock to the main three as the BNP did in 2009 and the Greens did in 89, quite another for a minor party to also beat the first past the post system. Newark would surely have given Farage a great opportunity, lack of organisation on the ground or not as unless he really wants to remove the impression of the party being a one man band, the by-election would have been all about him. The only concerns would have been whether he could withstand such day in, day out scrutiny and also if such publicity could have the effect of alienating voters rather than further building a sense of a win being inevitable. Of course, Farage could have lost, suggesting that if he couldn't win in such circumstances there's not much chance of the party's other candidates doing so in 2015. The other line of thought was should he have won he would then need to defend the seat in a year's time; a difficult task with the emphasis on the national picture, and with the other parties better organised and determined to decapitate the great irritant probably a bigger challenge than taking it in the first place.

It does make you wonder whether Farage has fully learned the lessons from his ill-fated stand in Buckingham in 2010 against speaker John Bercow.  With Labour and the Liberal Democrats not fielding candidates as is the general custom, it looked briefly possible there could be an upset.  Buckingham was felt then to be fertile territory, and there was even a possibility of a last minute sympathy vote when the light aircraft carrying Farage over the constituency crashed on the day itself.  In the event, Farage didn't get second, with John Stevens, a former Tory MEP and then Liberal Democrat member receiving 10,300 votes, 2,000 more than Farage.  Presumably the UKIPs are certain of their chances wherever it is Farage decides to stand, yet faced off against all the parties they can't be certain of anything.

Whether Farage comes to rue his caution remains to be seen.  The cult of Farage definitely can't last for long, just as "Cleggmania" was extremely fleeting.  One other thing that hasn't got the attention deserved when it comes to the UKIPs is that for every person enamoured with them, there's another who stand the sight of Nige. When 32% of those polled say the party's racist it clearly has major problems, suggesting that perhaps those of us extremely sniffy about the cross-party campaign might be speaking too soon.  Then again, perhaps this isn't surprising when Patrick O'Flynn appears on Newsnight and justifies the suspicion of "outsiders" coming into a community, an echo of past rhetoric if there ever was one.  If nothing else, at least in these confused times we can depend on one thing: the brow-beaten, impoverished BNP going for outright racism rather than make the merest attempt to disguise it.  How things don't change.

(P.S. This is also the blog's 3,500th post.  Someone kill me.)

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Congrats on the landmark post! At the risk of sounding like the worst kind of sycophant, you still have at least one daily reader.

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