By Owen Pugh
Firstly I must apologise for the title of this piece – UKIP’s name makes it too obvious a pun, like anything to do with Ed Balls. The question here is not whether the party has gone to sleep but whether their support has peaked and if we are now about to see their demise.
The most ready answer to the second part of this question is, probably not, at least not yet. Recently UKIP have been doing rather well electorally speaking. They haven’t won any MPs and hold only a few hundred seats in local government but they persistently beat the Conservatives and often end up in second place.
In the south they take Tory votes. In the north they take Labour votes. Their intrepid attempts to cover every possible base whilst admittedly not having any official policies is an impressive manoeuvre if nothing else. However it also leaves them vulnerable to being outflanked on many issues by more solid policy from the mainstream parties.
Despite attempts to jump on every bandwagon since the invention of the wheel, such journeys are invariably made bumpy to the point of UKIP being unseated by the beast from within – the rampant bigotry of the membership beyond Farage himself. Across the country, local by-elections have been forced by someone saying something unseemly about immigrants, homosexuals, women or minorities. With nothing to cling to beyond Farage and an EU referendum, the party’s limited appeal has reached its peak.
A political party is one that has policies across a smorgasbord of economic, social and political issues. The SNP are the perfect example of a nationalist party that actually has policies. It remains committed to monetary union with the UK (in spite of everyone from the Bank of England to Mr Osborne telling them it won’t happen) and is fixed upon its original aim of creating an independent Scotland even though every economic and political argument indicates that this will lead to the collapse of Scotland which will find itself outside the pound, the UK, the EU, NATO and the UN with an economy the size of a thimble and dependent on declining North Sea oil reserves and whisky. However, it has its policies and remains committed to them. It doesn’t change policy at the drop of a hat or the raising of a wind turbine.
In the Wythenshaw by-election, UKIP came second only narrowly, pushing the Conservatives into third place and not making an iota of a dent on Labour’s lead in what is one of the safest Labour seats in the UK. Though the Lib Dem vote collapsed as it has done elsewhere this should be considered in the context of a 28% turnout.
Lib Dem voters are staunch loyalists with many of them coming from the old SDP who split from Labour when it seemed to be veering from its original principles. If there is no chance of Lib Dem victory their voters stay at home. Their vote collapse in low turnout elections indicates that rather than switch to a party that doesn’t share their views, they would rather not turnout, especially when said election will have no impact like a by-election in a safe Labour seat one year before a general election.
Finally it must be realised that the rise of UKIP has come about under unusual circumstances. The government is a coalition, which is a rarity in the UK. Thanks to the coalition, voters who wished to protest were forced to turn elsewhere from the main three. UKIP became the obvious choice because they are a protest party concerned about one thing and one thing only.
However, come 2015, it seems certain that the Lib Dems as the party of protest in Parliament becomes a viable option (I for one predict them returning to the days when they could host their party conference in a call box). With this return to normality in British politics, the attraction of ‘new’ parties like UKIP will fade as much of their new-found support drifts back to its base as the economy improves. UKIP may then once again return to its long hibernation.