‘UKIP’s failure?’ I hear some UKIP supporters ask. ‘We are rising in the polls, we’ve added 13,000 members since 2013, we are taking votes from the Tories and Labour, we are the main challengers in a number of seats, we are favourites to win most votes in this year’s Euro elections, the other parties running scared,’ are comments that are repeatedly made in threads on newspaper websites and blogs. But there is good reason to believe the foundations underpinning these claims are soft.
We will come to the polling in a moment, but first we need to set the scene and look at UKIP’s prospects in this year’s Euro elections. Farage has talked up the party’s prospects and its members are highly confident that UKIP will win the most votes in the election. However the Euro polls are still showing that UKIP is behind Labour and will likely only come second at best. There is even still a chance the Tory vote could just squeak them into second at UKIP’s expense. It’s worth remembering UKIP’s total vote in 2009 (2,498,226) actually fell from that in 2004 (2,650,768) despite a larger electorate.
This time around, if the party can’t secure the most votes in the Euros, even in these perfect conditions for a protest vote, huge media coverage and a core support that will definitely turn out while millions of Labour and Tory voters will not bother themselves with a trip to the polling station, then success in the 2015 General Election is a pipe dream. Don’t forget, just a year after the 2009 Euro elections, in 2010 at the General Election, UKIP’s total vote fell to 919,546 (with the BNP on 564,331). That’s a lot votes loaned to the party in meaningless Euro elections that go somewhere else when people are asked to elect a government. Although with UKIP hoovering up BNP supporters and votes along with disaffected Tories and previous non voters who wish to register their disgust at the three main parties, it would be realistic to see UKIP get well in excess of 1,700,000 in 2015 – possibly even clearing the 2 million mark with room to spare. But that won’t translate into seats.
Back to polling then. While polling in some marginal seats funded by Alan Bown has UKIP, when the figures include undecided voters and those who refuse to say who they will vote for, as high as 19% (Thanet South) and 16% (Great Grimsby), nationally the party is still rooted stubbonly around the 13% mark. But the polls are not telling the whole story here because it is impossible to tell from them what the effect of the BNP’s collapse is.
We know a number of white working class Labour voters defected to the BNP. With the BNP imploding we know anecdotally that many of their members have been attracted to UKIP as the next best alternative by the immigration message that has taken centre stage. This 13% average UKIP polling figure is a lower percentage than before the May 2013 local elections in which UKIP won a number of district and county council seats. There is no breakthrough at the moment and UKIP’s position, third in the national polls, is only that way because the Lib Dems are being punished by former supporters for being in coalition with the Conservatives and have seen a lot of their support desert to Labour. These numbers and other factors considered, we will not see UKIP win any Westminster seats in 2015. Despite much bravado, it seems that UKIP is hitting a glass ceiling of support.
What does this suggest? A failure of UKIP’s own making. What voters are now seeing is a party of blatant contradiction they cannot trust, whose offering is nothing more than a dustbin for protest votes, ‘vote for us because we’re not Conservative/Labour’, which is offering nothing positive or differentiated of its own.
In the south people see UKIP promoting itself as the alternative to the Conservatives and trying to appeal to those who want low tax, smaller government, shrinking welfare budgets, stronger defence etc. People who are attracted by Farage lauding Margaret Thatcher, in a clear message that he is positioning himself to them as Thatcherite.
In the north people see UKIP promoting itself as the alternative to Labour and trying to appeal to those who believe in government running most things, funded by higher levels of tax than the south want, preserving or even increasing welfare budgets, who would like strong defence because many young men and women from the region join the forces in the absence of other opportunities. People who are attracted by pictures of Farage drinking bitter in a pub, in a clear message that he is positioning himself as an ordinary working class bloke.
The two are too mutually exclusive, and thanks to national media and 24 hour news, this ‘all things to all men’ strategy employed by Farage is all too visible to voters who will rightly feel it is nothing more than an electoral ploy, saying different things to different people based on what UKIP thinks they want to hear.
While some voters will feel moved to support UKIP regardless, when it comes to putting an ‘X’ on a ballot paper, will that be enough for UKIP to hold on to enough potential supporters in the north and south respectively, who see the party’s schizophrenic pronouncements in different parts of the country? People who loathe the blue or red side so much they would vote tactically for whoever is best placed to form a government that would keep Cameron/Miliband out of Downing Street. That’s the crux of the matter.
No matter whether the party is comprised of enthusiastic amateurs or professional political animals, as a strategy it may result in some short term gains. But in the long term it is doomed to failure. Depressingly, as that happens, so the Eurosceptic cause as a whole will be adversely affected.