The end of the story or a new chapter: what next for UKIP?

The moustache probably gave it away. In one of the more bizarre and quite frankly traumatic stories after Brexit, the acceptance Nigel Farage displayed when a dead ferret proceeded to curl up on his top lip and wedge itself there hinted that strange things were afoot. Now, post-job facial hair is nothing particularly new in this day and age; Michael Gove demonstrated the exact same thing.

So why did Farage get all the coverage? The answer is that the fortunes and identities of Farage and UKIP are so tightly coiled around each other that the two are very much interchangeable. No political leader in the current climate is a more recognisable figurehead for their party than Nigel Farage. A new moustache for Nigel must mean a new change in UKIP.

A one-man bandwagon, people often look to the not-so-subtle symbolism and gestures Farage makes when trying to gauge the direction of travel UKIP is headed in. Although now of course, it could be grinding to a halt, under a new driver who might not be able to withstand the heat of the coal face quite like the dear ex-leader did.

The new leader Diane James certainly has her work cut out; with numerous defections to the Tories and a current perception that the party has already done what it said on the tin, UKIP could now be in the midst of its last rites.

“Diane James is more smooth and less confrontational than her predecessor whilst her ‘Home Counties’ delivery has earned her the nickname ‘Queen of the South’”

But not if Diane James has anything to do with it. She has just made her way to the top of the UK’s most right-wing mainstream party. For all the extolling of social values from the Labour Party, this is something they are yet to do. She is not afraid to make decisions that will ruffle a few feathers, the most notable being her decision to shun all UKIP hustings during the leadership election in favour of hosting her own Q&A sessions with members.

The other challengers and her critics say she neglected her duty and ran from scrutiny. She says it was the best way to communicate her ideas to people. At the end of the day she was elected leader, so it doesn’t really matter. Welsh Group Leader in the Welsh Assembly Neil Hamilton also felt the full force of her uncompromising power when his speech was unceremoniously axed from the programme for the recent UKIP Party Conference, a move that might suggest they are not the closest of friends and that the faction wars that happened under Farage might be set to continue.

An accomplished media performer, Diane James is more smooth and less confrontational than her predecessor whilst her ‘Home Counties’ delivery has earned her the nickname ‘Queen of the South’. Whether that is an insult or not is entirely a matter open to debate.

This debate might in turn stop her from achieving UKIP’s now infamous aim: to strip ‘mining’ Labour’s entire northern working class base and harness it for their own devious schemes. A posh southerner winning votes from the working class North? How very Tony Blair-esque from Diane James, though she might have failed to make that connection just yet.

On a more serious note, there is a plain logic to this plan. The party racked up 4 million votes in the 2015 General Election. But one MP (although that’s a discussion for another time). Still, 4 million is not to be sniffed at and with UKIP coming second in a sizeable number of Labour seats, the signs are fairly promising.

“This is a party that prides itself on challenging political norms and saying just about anything to get a debate started”

The very idea of a right-wing party targeting what have traditionally been left-wing strongholds is something that seems to defy all political logic. But as we have seen during the referendum debate, if UKIP are able to dominate the agenda (immigration anyone?), then they have a fighting chance of being successful. This is a party that prides itself on challenging political norms and saying just about anything to get a debate started. UKIP is a street fighter and it will be interesting to see if the new leader embraces this identity or tries to change it.

52% voted for Britain to leave the European Union. That is the number that keeps the ‘Kippers warm at night as they snuggle into beds, complete with matching set of Union Jack pillows and duvet. For Diane James the possibilities seem endless. And that is precisely what might be the problem.

As we are now seeing with a nervous Conservative Government and a suicidal Labour Party, there are many roads to travel. In the next few months we might see a few signs of where Diane James wants to go, a few symbols here and there. Though no moustache one hopes.

Nick Scott

Image: Euro Realist Newsletter via Flickr

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