Friday, August 06, 2004

Hartlepool: UKIP has blown it!

Despite last-minute pleas - but to the relief of some party managers (see previous post) - Kilroy-Silk has decided not to stand for UKIP at the Hartlepool by-election.

We understand that he was enthusiastic about standing, but has been dismayed by the lack of organisation, the lack of commitment and the party in-fighting. As importantly, one of the leadership factions felt that Kilroy as an MP would present too powerful a threat to their own ambitions, and have been working to undermine him.

As a result, key backers are no longer willing financially to support the party, which meant that UKIP would not have been able to mount a high-profile campaign.

It is our understanding that Kilroy believed that the campaign planning should have moved into high gear in June, when it was evident that Mandelson was about to stand down. Instead, indecision, personal jealousies and outright sabotage prevented Kilroy taking the initiative.

Rather than set up the campaign, party officials were instructed to seek another high profile candidate - despite Kilroy not having formally conveyed his decision as to whether he would stand - in the hope of blocking his candidature. Private briefings to selected media and senior party members were then given against him, stressing his unsuitability for the constituency and hinting that Kilroy had already pulled out.

Furthermore, party infrastructure had not been, and still has not been put in place – especially in terms of research and information systems – that would enable UKIP to fight a high-profile by-election. No assurances were given that the limited party resources available would be devoted to the campaign.

On this basis, we are advised that Kilroy felt the risks of failure in Hartlepool were too high, so he has reluctantly decided to sit this fight out.

Having failed to capitalise on an unprecedented opportunity to win a Westminster seat by appointing its star performer, UKIP has no suitable alternative. No names have been put forward as a replacement, although the closing day for applications is Sunday. Those local celebrities who have been approached have declined to stand for UKIP.

The possibility is now that UKIP will put up a complete unknown, only to be punished by Hartlepool voters – who may well consider that they have been deserted by a party which offered them the best prospect of lodging a decisive protest vote against the political establishment. The result may well be a vote lower than the current poll average, and the effective destruction of UKIP as a credible political force in the North East.

Such an outcome would also be a setback for the Eurosceptic movement as a whole.

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