Ukip’s general secretary Paul Oakley has compared the party to the Black Death as he struggled to find positives from a night of carnage.
The Eurosceptic party suffered near-wipeout in English local elections, with dozens of councillors being axed as voters deserted the party.
Former vice chairman Suzanne Evans openly discussed the prospect that Ukip might “crumble” altogether, arguing that even if disappeared it would leave behind a record of success in its main objective.
But general secretary Mr Oakley insisted it was “not all over”, suggesting that Ukip might “go dormant” like the plague bacillus before reappearing again in the future.
“It’s not all over at all,” Mr Oakley told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“Think of the Black Death in the Middle Ages. It comes along and it causes disruption and then it goes dormant, and that’s exactly what we are going to do. Our time isn’t finished because Brexit is being betrayed.”
In response to interviewer Nick Robinson’s incredulous query over whether he really wanted to compare his party to a plague that killed millions of people, Mr Oakley said: “Absolutely. What’s wrong with that?”
He pointed to positive outcomes from the Black Death: “It also led to economic growth and the Renaissance. It got rid of the whole issue of servitude, basically, and allowed people to go into the towns and escape their landlords and create their own businesses.”
The comment was described as “the political quote of the century … the most perfectly Ukip-y thing I have ever heard” by the party’s former chairman Steve Crowther.
Mr Oakley later posted a picture on social media of his raised thumb next to a screen showing that the phrase “Black Death” was trending, in an apparent effort to claim his bizarre remark as a successful attempt to win publicity for Ukip.
The only point of light for the Eurosceptic party in a local election bloodbath was Derby, where it held one seat and gained another, unseating the Labour leader of the council and bringing its total representation to three.
Elsewhere, there was a merciless cull of Ukip councillors, with Conservatives apparently picking up significant numbers of their former supporters in areas such as Basildon.
Mr Oakley said Ukip had been hit by the failure of former leader Henry Bolton to start campaigning early enough and by a court order to pay £175,000 to Labour MPs as a result of a libel case.
The political quote of the century from UKIP GenSec @PaulJamesOakley on R4 just now: "UKIP is like the Black Death". Hardly able to function through gales â nay, spasms â of laughter. The most perfectly UKIP-y thing I have ever heard.— Steve Crowther (@SJCrowtherVSOP) May 4, 2018
“We were never going to do brilliantly in these elections, we knew that,” he said. “We accepted that some time ago.
“If we had had the money to campaign, we would have done a lot better. We are never going to take over councils all over the country. Four years ago was our high point.”
Ukip was defending seats won at a high point for the party in 2014, when it took 17% of the vote and 166 councillors as Nigel Farage stepped up pressure for an EU referendum.
With the referendum won and the UK on course for Brexit, it appeared that many Ukip voters may have considered the party’s job done.
But it was unclear what impact may have been made by the arrival of new leader Gerard Batten, who has sparked controversy with warnings of the influence he believes Islam is having on Britain.
Ms Evans said: “I have to say, three councillors in Derby, one of them actually unseating the leader of the Labour council – it might not be Ukip’s night, but my goodness me, when we do win we do it with style and we really put the cat among the pigeons.”
She added: “If Ukip does crumble I think you could still arguably make the case that it’s been one of the most successful political parties in history.”