What is 'UKIP', and How Will They Do on May 22nd?
The UK Independence Party (UKIP) represents many things to many people. Like the American Tea Party, the organisation tends to be comprised of those who are fed up with the 'establishment', and those who feel that government is too burdensome. At large, UKIP is a conservative party with libertarian leanings. Locally, it can mean a variety of things to say you 'vote UKIP'.
Started in 1993, UKIP is both older than most people realise, and more diverse. It was initially a primarily Eurosceptic party – that is to say it was concerned with Britain's national sovereignty, its control over its own monetary mechanisms, and eventually and naturally, with immigration figures in the United Kingdom.
Far from being 'xenophobic' or 'racist', UKIP's objections to mass immigration into Britain were both a latter objection in its history as a political party, and a reaction to the early 2000s' Blair government policy of 'open borders' immigration from Europe. It would be fair to say that nationalism and libertarianism run through UKIP in equal measure, as philosophically impossible as that may seem.
But the party has experienced a serious polling surge in recent years in being Britain's 'protest party' of choice – a title usually held by the left-wing Liberal Democrat party which now languishes at fourth place in local and national polls.
While UKIP enjoyed some local popularity in the late 90s and early 2000s, the party was often unfairly lumped in with the British National Party, a protectionist group whose policies lean more left than right, and latterly the English Defence League, which is nationalist-driven street protest movement.
The party really shot to fame after 2006, when Nigel Farage took the position as leader. Farage led UKIP into second place in the 2009 European Elections before standing down to fight the General Election in 2010. While he lost, Farage's charisma and media savvy earned him a place as a regular UK political commentator, which in turn helped UKIP into polling in third place in many UK surveys from around late 2012 onwards.
UKIP has failed to secure any seats in the British Parliament in Westminster, a fact that many UKIP sources put down to the disproportionate, first-past-the-post voting system, which means that an outside party would have to secure far more votes to land just one member of parliament than any of the 'big three' parties of British politics would. In effect, the system as it stands serves vested interests, while any reforms or boundary changes are hugely contested by the Conservative and Labour parties.
But in 2013 and beyond, UKIP has shown itself to be a significant political force, coming in second or third in a various many by-elections, and currently polling in a close second for the European Elections.
Critics argue that UKIP's message has switched from one of nationalism and/or rugged individualism, to one of general populism, appealing to the masses at whatever the cost. But regardless of this, few can deny its serious impact on British politics.
UKIP has forced the Conservative Party to the right. It has challenged the socialist Labour party on its home turf, and it has basically beaten the Liberal Democrat party into fourth place.
On May 22nd, expect UKIP to finished first or second in British polls, potentially giving Farage and his allies not just more seats (around 18, to their current 9) in the European Parliament, but maybe even more committee seats, and a huge new financial war chest with which to pursue the 'big three' parties in 2015.
If however, UKIP doesn't obtain a single Westminster seat at the 2015 general election in the UK... well that might mean curtains for Nigel Farage and his team, and it may be time to let a new generation of eurosceptics have a try.