Forward March of the Fruitcakes
UKIP are not the third party, and they are certainly not the new “Lib Dems” as some journalists would have you believe. But this does not mean they are not a political force to be reckoned with.
Fifth not Third Party
If we take the view that Westminster presentation is the gold standard of party ranking, and we set aside the nationalists, we could conceive of UKIP being the fifth party of UK politics. UKIP are fresh, exciting and willing to “say what we are all thinking.” This will undoubtedly garner the anti-politics vote, and draws comparison to the Liberal Democrats. UKIP will likely perform well in this years County Council elections and maybe if their luck holds finish first in European Elections in 2014.
But come the 2015 General Election the squeezed messages of the mainstream parties will no doubt erode the UKIP vote. Westminster elections being the game they are, privileging two parties, will undoubtedly deprive UKIP of a meaningful Westminster representation, if they achieve that at all. Perhaps the second thing UKIP have in common with the Lib Dems is a notion that First Past The Post treats them extremely unkindly.
Influence if not power?
January 23rd 2013 may well be the day history records as UKIP’s finest moment. The day a party with no MPs and no council majorities backed a Prime Minister into a corner. David Cameron’s Europe speech was seen by many as a desperate attempt to “shoot the UKIP fox”. In proposing a “In-Out” referendum on Britain’s membership of the E.U. Cameron narrowed his options, and alienated pro-European conservatives. Having previously avoided such a commitment, Cameron’s motives were viewed as suspect.
Talk of a potential electoral pact or even a post-2015 coalition should be treated as Westminster folly. The majority of UKIP’s voters are frustrated conservatives allied with anti-politics protest voters. The source of the UKIP’s power emanates from their ability to make the Conservatives sweat, and it would be nothing short of stupidity to cede this asset for a deal with their main rivals either before or after the election. UKIP are currently a blackmail party, who can motivate policy divergence and inconvenience mainstream parties through strong by-election results (e.g Corby and Eastleigh), but not a serious contender for power.
What UKIP do well is to avoid the unseemly rush to the the centre-ground that has characterised British politics since the mid-1990s. They appeal to the stereotypical ‘man and woman in the pub’ for the same reason as Boris Johnson’s uncanny success. UKIP are not afraid to go out on a limb take a position, even it earns them disdain. They know that the public react poorly to pre-digested and flagrantly P.R managed politics, and with the charismatic Nigel Farage as leader, this has allowed them to effectively set out their stall as a Eurosceptic no political-correctness nonsense party. This undoubtedly has some appeal, yet not enough to achieve their desired “earthquake”.
By Andrew Tromans