UKIP ‘is not dead’ in Sunderland, the party has insisted – despite failing to field any candidates in next month’s local elections.
The statement – issued by the Sunderland and Houghton branch of the eurosceptic group – is an attempt to prevent victory for Labour candidate in marginal wards.
The party has, however, denied any suggestion that the statement is the result of any ‘deals’ with other parties.
The statement, which was attributed to branch secretary Christopher Marshall, said: “We also co-operated with a number of other parties, Independent candidates, and political campaigners who care about our city as much as we do, and we worked out a number of wards where UKIP would be best to stand.
“I want to be clear there were never any ‘deals’, as this was simply a strategic placing of candidates.
“Unfortunately this never materialised, as we later decided that, due to the leadership issues with the previous administration of UKIP, it would be better to leave things to the other main parties this year, and avoid splitting the vote in any wards of the city.”
At the last round of local elections in Sunderland, in 2016, UKIP was runner-up in most wards, but failed to get any of its candidates elected.
In February’s contest for the former Pallion seat of late Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson, UKIP managed just 97 votes out of 2,324.
The result mirrored a similar decline in the party’s fortunes since the EU referendum in 2016
“UKIP is not dead,” the statement added, “especially in Sunderland.
“Our reach to the public is at a record high, our social media reach and our mailing list reach are also at record highs.
“We have a strong branch, probably the strongest in the entire North East, and we also hold regular meetings, most of which are open to the public.”
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were both named in the statement as parties likely to win in wards UKIP had decided not to contest.
Sunderland’s Lib Dem leader Niall Hodson said; “I think it shows that UKIP, while I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re dead, but clearly they feel they can’t compete against the Liberal Democrats.
“I’ve never seen in writing UKIP say they would stand aside for the Liberal Democrats – it’s quite a revelation.
“I think UKIP are slowly coming to realise they have misunderstood their own vote, that they can’t properly contest elections.
“If they can’t contest against the Conservatives, can’t contest against the Lib Dems, can’t contest against independents, what can they do?”
Sunderland Green Party press officer and candidate for St Peter’s ward Rachel Featherstone said: “It’s clear that locally, and nationally, UKIP are in disarray.
“Their financial problems and leadership dramas are well known.
“We’re seeing the end of the party as a viable political force in Sunderland.”
Coun Harry Trueman, the leader of Sunderland City Council said: “Basically, we’ve seen the demise of UKIP over the last years.
“If they think this will do any harm to the Labour Party, I think we will see after the election next week that it hasn’t.”
The Sunderland branch of the Conservative Party has denied making any deals with UKIP ahead of next week’s local elections.
In a statement issued yesterday (Tuesday) (April 24), the Sunderland and Houghton branch of the eurosceptic party said it was not fielding candidates in the ballot ‘so that we could best help with unseating as many Labour councillors as possible’.
It also said it would stand aside in wards ‘where the Conservative Party stood a reasonable chance of winning’, but any suggestion of a formal pact has been ruled out by both sides.
Coun Robert Oliver, leader of Sunderland Conservatives, said: “Sunderland Conservatives have not had any discussions with Ukip and we have not done any deals with that party in the local elections.”
James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service