UK by-election a battle for survival in Brexit bastion
STOKE-ON-TRENT: (APP) Thursday's knife-edge by-election in the biggest Brexit-backing city is make-or-break for UKIP and Labour, with both parties struggling to find their role as Britain quits the European Union.
Paul Nuttall, the new leader of the UK Independence Party, is himself standing in the battle for Stoke-on-Trent Central constituency, a stronghold for Labour -- currently the main opposition party -- since its creation in 1950.
Winning the parliamentary seat would give a huge boost to either UKIP or Labour, offering legitimacy in working-class England. Defeat could send either opposition party spiralling into irrelevance.
The disaffection with politics as usual is evident in the West Midlands city, which was once famous around the world as a hub for the pottery industry.
"There's no good politician, because all they're interested in is themselves," said Chris Silcock, a plumber who backs Brexit.
He was working on a three-bedroom terraced house, its hallway filled with campaign leaflets stuffed through the letterbox.
"They thought we'd all just go like sheep and vote to stay in the EU.
They'd got no idea. They just didn't listen to the people," the 62-year-old said.
"We ought to be able to govern our own country."
Of Britain's 30 major cities, Stoke had the highest vote to leave the EU in the June referendum, at 69.4 percent.
Nuttall is trying to repurpose UKIP, feeling that their survival post-Brexit depends on replacing Labour as the party of the working class in the former industrial heartlands of the Midlands and north of England -- places just like Stoke.
"This may well be one of the key by-elections in British political history," said Mick Temple, a politics professor at Stoke's Staffordshire University.
"If Labour lose here, where can they hold on to their seats in the north?
"And for UKIP, if they don't win in Stoke-on-Trent, where are they going to win?"