Four years ago, when UKIP failed to win the Eastleigh by-election by just 1,771 votes, I suggested to Nigel Farage that he had “bottled it” by not standing.

With Diane James as its candidate, UKIP came a close second behind the Liberal Democrats and pushed David Cameron’s Conservatives into third place.

I have been accused of many, many sins and most of them are true, he replied with typical Farage bluster. But I could never be accused of bottling anything in my life.

And he claimed, rather unconvincingly: I wouldn’t have done any better than Diane did. I didn’t believe it then and I still think he could have won had he stood in Eastleigh in 2013.

Now, after announcing that he won’t be a candidate in the 8 June General Election, he is claiming he could have won Clacton, now that former UKIP MP Douglas Carswell is not standing either.

It would be a very easy win and for me, a personal vindication to get into the House of Commons after all these years of standing in elections, he wrote in The Daily Telegraph.

Claiming he would have more influence over Brexit as an MEP, he wrote: If I compare the platform I have in Strasbourg to being a backbench MP, there is frankly no comparison.

The Brexit negotiations will take place in Brussels and the European Parliament will not only have a large impact on them, but ultimately will have the right of veto any deal at the end of the two-year process.

I believe I can use my profile in European politics to put real pressure on MEPs to vote for a sensible deal with the UK.

Many people will be sceptical about his latest claims, too. First the claim that he would have won Clacton easily and second that he will have more influence as an MEP.

Mr Farage has spent 18 years rubbishing the European Parliament in which he sits, and – as he says – spending 23 years trying to get elected to the House of Commons.

He has tried – and failed – to get elected at Westminster seven times, beginning with the previous Eastleigh by-election in 1994 and then in Salisbury in the 1997 general election, Bexhill and Battle in 2001 and South Thanet in 2005.

He stood in the Bromley and Chislehurst by-election in 2006, took on Commons Speaker John Bercow in Buckingham in 2010 and then fought a high-profile and controversial battle against the Conservatives in South Thanet once again in 2015.

Yet he has been a member of the European Parliament he so despises – or did until now, it appears – since 1999, representing South East England and being re-elected three times, in 2004, 2009 and 2014.

So why has he ruled out standing to become an MP for an eighth time. Has he bottled it again? Is he frit, to use Margaret Thatcher’s famous old Lincolnshire word?

He had two options: Clacton, as he has acknowledged, or Thanet South again, the seat in his native Kent which he lost to a former UKIP leader-turned-Tory right-winger, Craig Mackinlay, by 2,812 votes.

That contest – along with those in several other key marginals – is now mired in a Conservative Party election expenses scandal, with the Crown Prosecution Service threatening possible charges next month during the election campaign.

So why has he appeared to bottle it again? Chances are he weighed up his prospects, looked at the opinion polls – which show UKIP down to 7% – and concluded that he could end up losing yet again.

Then there’s the bigger picture. UKIP has always been accused of being a one-man band and since he stepped down as leader the party has appeared to be in a perpetual leadership crisis.

With his friendship with Donald Trump, a new career as a shock jock radio presenter and the chance to earn thousands on the after-dinner speaking circuit, he is now a full-blown international celebrity and bigger than his party.

Besides his nightly LBC show, he is a regular contributor to Fox News in the US and he is in demand for speaking engagements in the States as well as the UK. And, to be fair, he’s a brilliantly witty after-dinner speaker.

UKIP, meanwhile is fielding far fewer candidates in the local elections on May 4 than four years ago and is predicted to suffer 80 to 90 losses, more than half of the seats it won in the same elections in 2013.

Does all this mean UKIP is dead. Not necessarily. But UKIP’s fortunes are certainly on the way down as the Tories claim to be the Brexit party.

Nigel Farage’s career, however, is on the way up. He’s got bottle, certainly, just not for the House of Commons any more.

(c) Sky News 2017: No election for Farage: Is he too big for UKIP?

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