By Claudia Mullholland
By-elections are undeniably significant, acting as a bell-weather for upcoming general elections and measuring public confidence in government. None more so than the upcoming Stoke-on-Trent by-election, triggered by the resignation of Tristram Hunt. For both UKIP and Labour, the vote on the 23rd February is critical in judging their performances since the Brexit vote. Stoke-on-Trent will decide whether to stand by the divided Labour Party, and condemn Corbyn’s leadership by voting for the dissident Gareth Snell, or to support the anti-EU Paul Nuttall despite UKIP’s failure to emerge strong in the wake of June’s decision.
In such a situation, forecasting is futile. Until recently, Nuttall looked set to win, claiming a 10 point lead over Snell, reflecting widespread disdain with the state of Labour. Nuttall has set himself apart on the landmark issue of Brexit. Having campaigned in favour of the UK leaving the EU, and with Stoke-on-Trent voting 45% in favour of Brexit in June, there is certainly potential for a UKIP victory. Hunt however was successfully re-elected in 2015 in spite of his opposition to Brexit, and thus provides a glimmer of hope for the remainer, Snell. Equally, Nuttall’s campaign has weakened in the past week, furthering Labour’s chances. Accused of election fraud regarding his residency in the constituency, it remains to see whether Nuttall’s anti-EU rhetoric is enough to overcome this media storm, and claim him victory in Stoke-on-Trent.
A victory for Nuttall will spell major victory for UKIP, and has the potential to set its trajectory on an upward path. With the UK now in the process of leaving the EU, and UKIP’s ultimate goal essentially achieved, the party requires such a boost to launch it back into Westminster. A defeat for UKIP will only worsen the situation. On becoming leader, Nuttall was tasked with making UKIP relevant in a post Brexit world. To lose in Stoke-on-Trent will reaffirm UKIP as obsolete and will render Nuttall a failure.
Photograph: Paul Nuttal MEP via flickr.