Most political pundits have been forced to acknowledge that, at least in terms of the popular vote, UKIP are easily the third party, out-polling the Liberal Democrats and the Greens. But in some areas it is even better than that for the party. In the by-elections on October the 9th, two key insights into the power of UKIP were revealed. In Heywood and Middleton they lost to the Labour party candidate by just 617 votes, leaving the Conservative candidate (Ian Gartside) far behind with just 12% of the vote. In the Clacton on sea by election on the same day, Douglas Carswell won over 21,000 votes, whereas the Labour candidate, Tim Young, got less than 4,000. This left the Conservative party ineffective in Heywood and the Labour Party inadequate in Clacton. A similar result occurred in the Rochester by-election, the Labour Party, having held the constituency while it was called Medway from 1997 to 2010, came a distant third in Thursdays by-election, with just 6713 votes to the Conservatives 13,975 and UKIP’s 16,867.
While it would be unreasonable to extrapolate conclusions for whole regions from just three by-elections, it has left the impression in the minds of David Cameron and Ed Miliband that UKIP are their main opposition in regions which they once considered “safe” for them, namely the North of England for Labour and the south east for the Conservative party. Not only are they the main opposition, but they stand a serious chance of winning seats in both areas, Nigel Farage even stating confidently that UKIP could take Ed Miliband’s own seat of Doncaster. Mark Reckless’ recent victory for UKIP in Rochester- a Labour Conservative marginal, has proven that UKIP are able to win both middle class southern voters who would normally vote Conservative, and working class voters who normally vote Labour.
UKIP, are very clear what they want on two major issues. They want a withdrawal from the European Union, and a limit on open door immigration to the UK. Europe has always been a sore subject for the Conservative party. Edward Heath, supported by most of his cabinet, took Britain into the EEC in 1973 and supported the Yes campaign in the 1975 referendum. John Major in 1992 begun a process of closer integration with Europe via the Maastricht Treaty (which incidentally was the inspiration behind the founding of UKIP in 1993). And David Cameron, this year alone, has gone from one EU blunder to another, first failing to stop the federalist Jean Claude Juncker winning the vote for President of the EU Commission, then receiving a request from Junker for £1.7 billion in surcharges in October, and finally being told firmly by German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he will not be allowed to limit migration into Britain from EU migrants last week. David Cameron has personally promised a referendum on EU membership if he wins the general election in 2015. However his recent meddling with Parliamentary procedure over a debate (or lack thereof) on the European arrest warrant has makes is backbenchers wonder whether he can be trusted.
David Cameron is trying to present himself as a moderate on the EU issue, favoring continued membership in a reformed EU with more powers held by the British people. However his authority in Brussels is weak, and this has resulted in 2 of his more Eurosceptic MP’s, and a large number of voters, activists and donors, switching to UKIP in the hope of getting Britain out of the EU once and for all.
UKIP left of right?
If UKIP are seen to be “to the right of the Tories” than why are many people switching from Labour to UKIP? Well first of all, most people who read UKIP policies (or lack thereof) may struggle to discern where UKIP stand precisely on the economic spectrum. The deputy leader of their party, Paul Nuttall wrote in 2012 an online post condemning the NHS saying “the NHS … is not fit for purpose in the 21st Century”. This would put UKIP on the right of the economic spectrum. However recently the UKIP health secretary Louis Bears has published a whole page dedicated to how she will “stand up” for Britain’s NHS and called it a “working class victory” when it was created in 1948. So UKIP is left wing? Other such flip-flops can be seen on the idea of implementing a flat tax of 31% and their idea of implementing a luxury tax, proposed and dismissed within a day at their party conference this year. They have no concrete policies on welfare, education, pensions and a plethora of other issues that matter a lot to voters. With such a lack of clarity on economics voters are mainly focusing on the one issue on which UKIP are crystal clear; immigration.
While UKIP really having no firm stance on most economic issues, they are clearly against open door immigration and favour a cap on all people coming here, EU member or not. This resonates strongly with working class people who, despite having left wing opinions on economic policy, have conservative opinions on social issues such as immigration. Heavily distrustful of Labour’s policies on immigration, between 1997 and 2010 5.5 million people came to this country, large numbers from former Soviet states such as Poland. These workers were perceived to be “stealing” the jobs of native workers, and depressing the wages of those still in a job. When the recession hit in 2008 they became the focus of public anger as unemployment increased. Although the Conservatives have promised immigration reform, the party is unpopular with working class people in the North of England. Distrusting both Labour and the Conservatives with political office, the alienated working class man is seemingly only left with only one option: UKIP.
There are a variety of other reasons UKIP are popular. With the Liberal Democrats now in government, UKIP is considered to be the main “protest” or “anti-establishment” party among disillusioned voters. Nigel Farage is arguably the most charismatic of the four leaders, eager to be seen with a pint or a cigarette in a working class pub. Attempts to curtail UKIP’s popularity among voters by calling them “racist” or “sexist” are seen as nothing more than slanderous attempts to avoid a serious argument, and they backfire by alienating potential UKIP voters away from the main three Westminster parties and into UKIP tribalism.
In conclusion, it would seem UKIP present a major threat to both Westminster parties, and one which both parties have had to consider strongly if either seeks to get a majority at the next general election. Should they fail to do so, they may find themselves having to deal with UKIP, something highly embarrassing for both leaders should it come to that.
Theo Cox Dodgson