Clive Lewis, with perhaps one eye auspiciously assaying the Labour leadership, claims that UKIP are dangerously close to taking Stoke Central from Labour. Ironically, in saying this as a shadow cabinet minister, he is contributing to a general media buzz that is giving UKIP far better chances than it would otherwise have. Still, I think even the multiplying villainies of hype and nonsense will not turn Stoke UKIP.
A few points to this effect.
The bookies who are predicting a UKIP victory are terribly unreliable, and there is no reliable polling about Stoke Central. The basis upon which betting shops favour UKIP is that Stoke is a Leave constituency. The trend since Brexit has indeed been for a certain realignment, but not one largely benefiting UKIP. 'Remain' Tories have tended to swing behind the Liberals, without 'Leave' Tories swinging behind UKIP. UKIP's results since 2015 have not been good. In 2015, UKIP scored 22.5% of the vote in Stoke Central, and I would expect many of these voters to go back to the Tories. To fixate on UKIP, after all, is to overlook the extraordinary efforts by Theresa May to make the Conservative Party a welcoming place for racist voters, and even to borrow some of the right-wing class politics by which UKIP have sought to cut into the working class vote.
Labour has the biggest organisation, and the biggest single bloc of votes, in Stoke. The organisation has grown under Corbyn. The candidate is no longer a posh Blairite celebrity, but is a local politician, broadly of the left. Why do we imagine, then, that urban Labour voters will do for UKIP what right-wing Tories haven't? The "white working class" has not yet proved the univocal beast of nationalist reaction that pundits have hoped for it to be -- no, not even in Oldham West, which turned out to be as much a Leave constituency as Stoke Central. Of course, there have been two major changes since Oldham West: the Brexit vote, and the Labour coup, the last following hard upon the first. We don't yet know what difference that has made. But thus far, where UKIP has made gains in northern Labour constituencies, it has primarily been by assembling a coalition of existing right-wing voters rather than by shaking loose chunks of the Labour base.
Paul Nuttall is no Nigel Farage, having neither the charisma nor the game. He is far more openly doctrinaire, far less versatile in his use of language. Yet, we are supposed to believe that he can do for UKIP in Stoke, what Nigel Farage could not in Thanet. Setting aside the kind of tactical carelessness which resulted in him being subject to a police investigation for false reporting, his strategy is implausible. He says that Richmond was won by the Liberals, because they made the bye-election a referendum on the referendum; thus, if UKIP can do the same in Stoke, then they, as the Brexitiest party, win. Richmond, a Liberal-Tory swing constituency, was about far more than that -- not least Zac Goldsmith's disgraceful mayoral campaign. The Labour vote in Stoke Central dropped from over fifty percent to under forty percent when Tristram Hunt was helicoptered in, but still it has been a Labour constituency for some decades. For it to go UKIP would require far deeper changes than anything we saw in Richmond.
However. All prediction is a defence against the future which, by definition, contains the unpredictable. IF Lewis is, by some unfortunate coincidence, right, then all calculations have to immediately change. The realignment that would imply, would signal a tectonic shift. Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party would be at the stake, and the Left would have to gird itself for crushing defeats. Fascism would be far closer than we had realised. Racist nationalism would have won far more completely than anyone knew, trumping all. In which case, mollifying the monster for immediate gain, trying to bargain with racism, would be like trying to tame the Furies by stroking their bloody jaws. There would no faster way to be brutally disarmed.