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.
And the Greens staked a claim on the title of England’s fourth party as they gained seats in councils all around the country.
Former Ukip 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.
But Ukip leader Gerard Batten was less impressed, telling the BBC: “It wouldn’t have been my choice of medieval historical analogy … We’ve certainly been a plague on the houses of Tory and Labour, maybe we can be a plague on them again.”
Mr Batten said that Ukip’s disastrous showing “wasn’t an entirely surprising result, because when I took over as interim leader two months ago there was no campaign, absolutely nothing had been done when it should have been planned six months or 12 months before”.
“I’m not saying it’s a good result, I’m being perfectly honest with you, I’m very disappointed and I’d hoped we would do better,” said Mr Batten.
But he insisted that Ukip was “still a force to be reckoned with”, saying: “If we can still get 5%-7% of the vote now, in the situation that we have been left in, I think that’s a strong base to build on for the future.”
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.
By contrast, the Greens picked up seats from the Tories and in the south London seat of Richmond, Trafford in Greater Manchester, Sheffield and Peterborough.
Party co-leader Caroline Lucas said: “The Green Party has taken a significant step forward with just a fraction of the resources of the bigger parties. We are now established as one of the four major English parties – and an electoral force right across the nation.
“From Richmond and the Midlands to Greater Manchester we’ve had some great results and we’ve still got more to come.”
Lots of results still to come, especially in London, but it was a good night for @TheGreenParty. We're winning in new places across England - and we're now, without doubt, one of the big four parties here.— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) May 4, 2018
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.
“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.”