Writing in the Guardian today, academics Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin ask three key questions that UKIP should answer, and may well answer by the party’s performance in the May 22nd European and local elections in Britain.
Ford and Goodwin, authors of Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain, ask whether UKIP can broaden its base, whether the party can identify strongholds in 2015, and whether or not the party can “stand the pressure” heading into 2015. I’ve tried to answer each question for the pair below:
Can UKIP broaden its base?
I would say undoubtedly so, when you consider what a low position UKIP is actually starting from. They may be polling at 30-something percent for May 22nd, but many still are not convinced about UKIP. They may fear its brashness, they may believe the establishment’s spin, they may not yet have heard of UKIP or understand its platform (yes, not everyone gets as excited about us about politics) – and there are a number of other factors at play.
Can the Conservatives stop their haemorrhaging? Can Labour make sure it doesn’t turn off its centrist vote with Ed Miliband’s hard-Left policies? Can the Liberal Democrats and the Greens reassert themselves as credible parties of protest?
All these votes are left to play for, and besides the Tory ones, will broaden UKIP’s base. Additionally, UKIP is beginning to make overtures to black and ethnic minority voters as research suggests the more family-orientated amongst them are perhaps medium-hanging fruit for UKIP. With the likes of Amjad Bashir, Seema Takhar, and dozens of other council and MEP candidates or activists joining UKIP, the party will be able to reach out to new areas in Britain.
Can UKIP identify local strongholds for 2015?
This depends, and while Goodwin and Ford say “undoubtedly so” – it is more a case that UKIP will be looking for spots of weakness (weakholds?) for the other parties, rather than just yet have an entire stronghold of a constituency for itself.
The party certainly has strongholds in council wards which can span multiple constituencies, but if you’re looking at where someone like leader Nigel Farage might run, it is inevitably a weak Tory seat like South Thanet, where resigning MP Laura Sandys will be leaving a legacy which could let UKIP in. If the Conservatives were smart, they would run one of their secret weapons (Tim Montgomerie?) against UKIP in this seat.
Of course the European and local elections will give UKIP a greater idea of where it is strongest, and previous by-elections have shown that the party can perform well in certain northern constituencies, where it has eaten pretty much the entirety of the Conservative vote, and some of the Labour vote too.
UKIP will be focusing on Eastleigh, where Diane James cut a Liberal Democrat majority to just 1,700 in 2013.
Can the party stand the pressure?
This question almost seems too easy: “Yes, of course. Look how they’ve withstood all the attacks thus far!” But the real trick is not the attacks from the political establishment. UKIP has inner demons – opponents of Farage within the party, internecine running battles for titles than no one really cares about, and minor disputes over party policy on welfare and same-sex marriage.
The young wing of the party, Young Independence, is far more libertarian than the UKIP grassroots. Also, the party needs to hold its nerve as it sees some people defect back to the Conservatives in 2015. One UKIP councillor has already told me they are considering it, while some who lose out on May 22nd may blame their colleagues and lash out. The party’s leadership needs to act swiftly to keep a lid on all of this.
Allegations of racism and extremism may get the Westminster and Notting Hill chattering classes upset (on my behalf, no less) but it doesn’t put off the greater, disaffected British public. Not because they’re racist either, but because they don’t buy into the definition of the term which has been overused and diluted, but also because Britons have bigger fish to fry than some stray remarks by a few local election candidates.