UKIP bosses say they deliberately chose not to field candidates in Oldham at this year’s local elections because they instead want to focus on ‘little victories’.

A top party official said members were advised to make their ‘goals achievable’ when deciding which seats to contest across the region at the May 3 election.

Once a key election target, UKIP will be a no-show at the Oldham count at the Queen Elizabeth Hall tonight after the party decided not to field a single candidate in the borough.

John Kelly, regional organiser for the party in the north west, said that members have instead been supporting their seven Rochdale candidates, pitching with leafleting and canvassing duties.

He said: “The reason Oldham is without candidates this election is down to choice, UKIP’s branch structure means, as many of our leaflets say, local candidates are not whipped.

“They are in fact encouraged to look closely at local issues and fight battles they can potentially win.

“As regional organiser I have encouraged all the branch chairs in the north west to focus on making their goals achievable.”

This year the party’s Cheshire branches have been involved in helping to campaign in Bolton, where one of their four elected councillors is fighting to retain his seat against challenge from Labour, Mr Kelly added.

“Members from Oldham have been working with other teams in the area such as Rochdale which is having a very good campaign,” he said.

Just two years ago UKIP came second in eight of the nine seats the party contested in Labour-controlled Oldham.

Now the party’s only elected councillor, Peter Klonowski, is vacating his Saddleworth West and Lees seat, which will see a three-way battle between Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

The future strategy for the party is to focus on ‘little victories’, Mr Kelly said.

“Going forward, whether it will be this local election or the next, UKIP will have a goal of returning elected council members and focussing on where we have won little victories,” he added.

“Membership numbers are now increasing and as the current government continue to address the issues creating barriers to a full Brexit, UKIP is building support and gaining ground. 17.2 million people will not be ignored.”

Despite UKIP not appearing on the ballot papers, pro-Brexit independent candidates Warren Bates and Dean Ludford are standing in the two Failsworth wards.

Their joint leaflet carries the slogan: “Brexit Means Exit Now!!!!!!”