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UKIP’s general election prospects

enoch powell & nigle farageOur Nige is standing in South Thanet (at last!). The party’s pledged to take minimum wage earners out of income tax (and, whisper it, cutting the top rate for the very richest too). Prominent kippers gaffe, gaffe, and gaffe again. Admiring Hitler’s demagoguery? Calling a Thai supporter “ting-tong“? It’s so much water off a racist duck’s back. Yet whatever they try, this silly season just isn’t that interested in the doings of UKIP. With a low profile, some might be tempted to rule them out of contention for next year completely. After all, it’s a rule of electoral gravity that protest voters happy to lend their vote to populist rabbles inbetween general elections return to their homes when ballots really matter.

Will that be the case with UKIP? They topped the European polls in May with 4.4m votes (27.5%) and record an average score in the range of 11-15.5% in local council by-elections. The polls tell the same story. When asked explicitly about general election voting intentions, 17, 18, 19 – even 21% are not unknown. How reasonable can we expect a vote collapse and an exodus that would disproportionately benefit the Tories?

I would be surprised if UKIP’s vote dips beneath 10% next May (assuming Scotland decides to stay – a yes vote might boost the party further). There are a couple of reasons for this. First off, British politics entered properly new territory after the 2012 Corby by-election, the last ‘conventional’ parliamentary by-election this parliament. Since then, regardless of who holds the seat, UKIP have come second. This underlines their character as an anti-politics protest party with the capacity to do well everywhere as fed up voters succumb to temptation and give Westminster the finger. The drivers of anti-politics are well established, and need not be repeated here. That said economicsculture, and gender all play their part.

This anti-politics vote is pretty volatile. The LibDems used to benefit from its less virulent forms, as do the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Greens to greater and lesser extents. The BNP panicked official politics because it fished well from this pond for a short while. UKIP also have well before their current turn in the sun. Remember, Farage has been a professional politician since 1999. As is well known, this disproportionately affects the Tories but UKIP benefit from general discontent – they drink deep from the main parties’ electoral run-off. Unfortunately, most political comment operates as if this “run-off” is all there is. UKIP attract more Tory supporters because they too are a right-wing party, albeit one unafraid of putting the boot into immigrants and Europe.

For most of UKIP’s history, this has been the case. But since the Coalition was formed, Farage and friends have benefited from an organic crisis in the Conservative Party. They have demographic trends against them, whole swathes of the country are electoral no-gos, the Tory grass roots have yellowed and withered, and they’re so beholden to the city that as a party of business, they are outright dysfunctional for British capital-in-general. Dave’s half-arsed “modernisation” – embracing equal marriage and equality for LGBT, women, and minority ethnicities, and faux toughness toward Europe – has exacerbated long-term decline and delivered activists by the blue-rinsed brigade load to UKIP. He hasn’t really moved away from the Thatcherite Toryism his misanthropic membership hold dear, but it appears otherwise.

Because UKIP’s growth is underpinned by the crisis of British conservatism, a lot of these people will not be going back. They are fundamentally and irreconcilably alienated from the Conservatives’ direction of travel. That’s why anyone betting on a collapse in UKIP support, like a number of “professional” commentators I could mention, is very foolish indeed.

Don’t take it from me, though. Look at the evidence. Cast your mind back to the early 1980s. Labour was bingeing on internal strife as factions duked it out in a no holds barred battle for the party’s direction. In March 1981, the so-called Gang of Four – David Owen, Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins and Bill Rodgers led a right-wing split from Labour. The new Social Democratic Party could eventually count on a parliamentary phalanx of 28 former Labour MPs (and one Tory). It would stand as the Alliance (with the Liberals) in 1983 and 1987 before merging and creating the modern Liberal Democrats in 1988. The SDP attracted all kinds to its banner but, as you might expect, it was most appealing to soft and moderate Labour supporters – just as UKIP does to hardened Tories. Furthermore, the SDP’s support did not evaporate in the 1983 general election. Compared with 1979 (where the Liberals got just shy of 14%) the SDP arguably brought about 10% to the Alliance’s vote tally. It was less the Falklands and “the longest suicide note in history” that did for Labour. It was the product of their own crisis: the SDP. Subsequently in 1987 the SDP vote held up, the Alliance slipping by just 2.8%. The SDP performed well because it was an outcome of the organic crisis in Labourism.

Electoral precedent is no iron law, but the British electorate have form for voting in substantial numbers for political alternatives under certain circumstances. After the crisis in Toryism exploded into the open, looking back at UKIP’s general election scores for 2010 and 2005 is misleading. Now the present day party is as much a product of crisis as the SDP was, what happened back then is a better indicator of UKIP’s performance next May. Add that to hundreds of thousands of voters in the habit of voting for them in second order election after second order election, those polls might not inflate UKIP support by a great deal at all. UKIP’s vote is not going to collapse. There will be no significant drift back to the Tories.

2 Comments

  1. Robert says:

    Do not tell anyone but if labour wins the next election, Ed Balls the chancellor has stated the rise in tax to 50p would be short lived as he promised the high earners it would not be for long, before I drooped it back to it’s normal rate which would be I suspect 40p .

    Labour is a party which will do and say anything to get elected it has no principles except to do what ever it takes to get elected.

    So Farage offers to take the low paid earners out of tax is welcome as are the liberals but since both parties have no bloody chance of being elected they can say what they like.

    The issue today is between the Tories and labour and which one do you trust the most with the recovery because it’s the recovery which has the best chance of seeing wages rise.

    So you take your X and you put it next to the party you see who will do the most for the country, if you not think it’s either, and you wish to show both parties your not happy with the Tories or Tory Lite Progress then Farage or Clegg will be ideal protests votes .

    I will not be voting for Miliband simple the lad is weak, totally controlled by Blair and his Right wingers the Progress party. Or as they call it the One nation party.

    The Tories I’d rather cut my wrist then vote for this lot yet when I now look back at the Thatcher years as times mellows one’s hate, if you were in work or lucky to be in work wages were better under her, and if you were disabled benefits were better under her but I still cannot vote for them because well being an ex miner and all that.

    So for me I’ve three choices really well four, vote for Miliband in the hope the Unions battle Progress, little chance of that happening the Unions have surrendered.
    So shall we vote for a Progress right winger labour movement which will be called one day the Progress party, nope sorry.

    Shall I vote for Farage maybe I will see, what about Clegg nope sorry a Tory by name and heart. so what then, well I shall sit at home.

  2. swatantra says:

    Pity you didn’t get that picture of Nige sporting a Hitler moustache. Reminds me very much of that other populist Moseley in the 30’s who garnered great support amongst the working class. UKIP’s support is vasly over rated; it resides in those that are twisted and troubled within for some reason, and angry, rather similar to road rage; they’ve peaked, and Nige won’t win Thanet S.

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