Ukip’s campaign in Stoke-on-Trent Central is insufficiently organised to convert the city’s Brexit majority into support at the ballot box, rivals say.
The claim came as the party’s leader and candidate for next week’s crunch byelection, Paul Nuttall, was forced to move house amid fears for his safety. He has also had to deny allegations that he lied about being present at the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.
Ukip is the bookmakers’ favourite to take the seat following the resignation of the Labour MP Tristram Hunt. A handful of polls commissioned by Eurosceptic groups have put Nuttall well ahead of the Labour candidate, Gareth Snell.
Victory in the city, where 70% voted to leave the EU, would lend weight to fears that Labour is on the brink of meltdown in its provincial heartlands. A Labour hold would raise serious doubts over Ukip’s post-Brexit appeal, although Nuttall says the seat is 72nd on the party’s target list.
However, Chris Lovell, the Lib Dems’ campaign manager, said Ukip was likely to underperform expectations. “Ukip aren’t going to win it, I can be definite on that,” he said.
“Ukip talk themselves up but don’t know how to fight elections. Our ground game is miles better than theirs, as is Labour’s. From our data, I’d be relatively confident that Ukip aren’t going to win.”
Turnout for the EU referendum was 65.7%, compared with just 49.9% – the lowest of any seat in the country – in the 2015 general election. Recent polls…