Post May 22nd, UKIP Will Demand to Be a Larger Part of the National Debate, and Steal the Left's Key Lines
Sixteen percent of Britons know the date of next month’s European elections. Ninety-three percent cannot name a single MEP who represents them in the European Parliament. To put it another way, no one really cares about May 22nd. But does this mean it does not matter?
The Conservative Party certainly hopes so. Privately, the consensus in Tory circles is that their party faces an embarrassing third-place defeat. One in three 2010 Tory voters are expected to defect to UKIP. They and Labour will clean up. However, so the theory goes, UKIP’s support will then fall away as the public eventually realises 2015 is a straight fight between Prime Minister David Cameron and opposition leader Ed Miliband. Confronted with the idea of the Labour leader in Downing Street, everyone will forget about Nigel Farage and come home to Dave. The Euros won’t have that much of an impact on the important stuff next year.
The problem with this prediction, as UKIP never tire of reminding us, is that things aren’t quite that simple. Yes, it makes sense for rational voters concerned with Europe and immigration to vote Tory in 2015 so Labour do not win. What the Tories don’t seem to recognise is that UKIP voters do not really think like them. Conservative HQ cannot comprehend the mind of the voter who would vote UKIP and have Miliband in Number 10. “They just don’t get it,” say UKIP, not unfairly.
The middle-class, progressive, Oxbridge-educated, metropolitan London elite, or ‘Tory establishment stooges at the Times newspaper’ if you are a UKIP supporter, have done their best to undermine Farage.
He is exposed for ‘allegedly’ having had an affair. UKIP supporters rally round him. He is revealed to be a hypocrite over the employment of his wife. "Establishment smears!" cry UKIPers. He faces an investigation over his expenses and admits spending taxpayers’ money on party political activity. This just shows the Tories are running scared, we are told.
Take the controversial immigration posters released by UKIP this week. Almost without exception, the 'establishment stooges' found them grossly distasteful, bordering on racist, dog whistle politics. It may come as a surprise, but they were not the intended target audience. Look at the response of working class voters who might actually consider putting a cross next to UKIP. The posters resonate: “this is a very real situation for a lot of people”, says one.
Post-May 22nd the question that matters is this: what will happen to get people who voted UKIP in the Euros to vote Tory in 2015? For the Tory prophecy to come true, what will possibly convince UKIP voters to ‘come home’ in time for the general election?
It probably won’t be attacks on Nigel Farage. However legitimate they may be, they seem to just strengthen his position. It definitely won’t be the Tories’ offer on Europe. It is almost impossible for the Tories to deliver a referendum on Europe.
One of the most important - and most variable - factors is the TV debates. Farage’s demolition of Nick Clegg in the Euro version has pretty much guaranteed he won’t be allowed to take part in 2015, if that was not certain already. Prior to the debates, this will galvanise UKIP support: "Running scared, closing ranks, establishment, establishment, establishment." We know the drill.
David Cameron’s hope is that in a presidential debate with Ed Miliband where there is no third way, viewers will almost subconsciously forget about Farage for an hour and side with him. If enough of them forget about Farage until the election then the plan might work. That is why UKIP so badly want to be involved. That is why the Tories won’t let it happen.
The other game-changing factor between May 22nd 2014 and May 7th 2015 is the rise of 'Red UKIP'.
Over the last few months we have seen signs of a left-wing shift from the party. During the Wythenshawe by-election UKIP promised to “protect your benefits”. It has announced its opposition to the bedroom “tax” and its plans to take on zero-hour contracts. Not only has the party started to steal Labour’s policies, it is also stealing its rhetoric. The Tories are “out of touch”, only UKIP can solve the “cost of living crisis”.
UKIP has built its success on saying what it thinks the working class want to hear on immigration and Europe. That has worked. The party seems to think the people want a shift to the left on welfare and the economy. The polls show they are wrong. If after the Euros UKIP pursue an old Labour approach, voters will desert them and go back to the Tories.
Red UKIP may become David Cameron’s best weapon in convincing those old Tory voters to come home.