The Rise and Fall of UKIP
UKIP’s rise and fall could be considered the greatest phenomenon in modern British politics. Their rapid rise to success, and their even faster demise, makes their story unlike any of the other parties in the British political scene.
From its outset in the 1990s UKIP presented themselves as outsiders, different to the political elites of Westminster. In part, this was true, and their success as outsiders got several of them elected to comfortable seats in Brussels – where they have enjoyed large pay packets at the same time as they complained about the system (Nigel Farage is still an MEP).
But they did have an effect. They were tuned into the dissatisfaction of a large proportion of the British public – often the part which did not understand who to blame for their lack of opportunity. The traction they were able to get scared the Tories in particular, who saw their traditional vote fragmenting. Many Tory MPs were forced, some more willingly than others, to take a sharp right turn.
The unexpected Coalition government of 2010-2015 saw them pause. Cameron’s natural inclination lies in the centre ground of British politics and he was able to successfully use the need to keep Clegg and the Liberal Democrats on side as a means of keeping his more rabid right wingers at bay.
However, while things at Westminster seemed rosy, the same was not true in the country. Local elections saw the inexorable rise of UKIP councillors. Douglas Carswell MP even defected to UKIP, although he later admitted his aim was to ‘detoxify’ the Eurosceptic movement and his relationship with other UKIP leaders was often tense. His colleague Mark Reckless MP defected soon after, and he is still active as a Welsh Assembly Member.
Like most leaders, Cameron can read the runes (or at least the polls) and will have heard much from his whips about the gossip on the back benches. By 2015 he needed to put in place a policy which would keep the right of his party in line long enough so he could get a working majority – allowing him to worry about what happened next, later. His plan, the promise of a referendum, worked but he believed the polling which showed there would be a comfortable referendum victory for Remain (perhaps Theresa should have learnt this lesson?).
All this was grist to the Farage mill. An excellent self-publicist, Farage could always be found with a pint in his hand (wearing his pin stripped suit) in the pub. Apparently this was the politics his members wanted. It was certainly what the broadcasters were after having had years of bland platitudes from the main parties (see May, Corbyn etc interviews at any point in the last six months).
Farage successfully proclaimed he was the sole reason we were having the referendum. And people believed him. UKIP got more coverage and more funding and grew their organisation.
Their peak was the 2015 General Election, where they surged from 3% of the vote nationally to 12.6% of the vote (3.8 million votes!). Crucially, they didn’t make a breakthrough and Farage himself didn’t get elected – leaving Carswell the only UKIP representative in the lower chamber. It was clear at this point that they were taking votes from Labour as well as the Tories. So, what happened?
In short, the referendum.
On 23 June, the UK voted to leave the European Union. Britain’s exit from the European Union was the main aim of the party. While they celebrated they had destroyed their very reason for being.
Farage declared project UKIP over by resigning, causing the internal cracks, papered over so often in the past, to gape open. They held abortive leadership elections and their only MP, Douglas Carswell, defected. The lease on their headquarters expired and their donations had plummeted to a point where even the British National Party brought in more. Their remaining donor threatened to form his own party.
Their spectacular fall was complete by May 4 which showed a complete collapse in their vote. In a night which will probably be seen as the end of the party, UKIP Councillors lost all of their seats across the country. Bar none. They are expected to experience a similar result on 8 June, despite Paul Nuttall’s attempt to kick start UKIP’s popularity with the manifesto.
UKIP launched their eclectic General Election manifesto last week. The Party laid out various key points. These include a ‘one in, one out’ system on immigration and an increase in spending on the NHS and social care, correlating with a decrease in spending on foreign aid from 0.8% to 0.2%. They persist with their policy on banning the burqa, branding it as dehumanising and even arguing that it causes a vitamin D deficiency. More entertainingly, the EU flag will be banned (burned?) and even gold stars in schools will be frowned upon (this in not even a joke).
They were the first party to restart their national campaign after the Manchester Attack on Monday. This caused some stir in the press question and answer session, where they were accused of using the attack to their advantage. They accused the Prime Minister of being responsible for the attack, however when questioned on this they quickly back tracked on their statement. Much of their manifesto concentrates on the Islamic state and immigration, to they were even asked by one reporter if they had changed any of their manifesto in light of what happened in Manchester. To which they responded with a firm no.
Recent polls show that of all the 3.8 million people who voted UKIP in the 2015 General Election, just 43% will stick to voting UKIP, 37% will switch to another party and 20% are still undecided. Further polls suggest that the majority of this 37% will switch to vote for the Conservatives. In our view, the vote will collapse almost entirely.
Their only hope is for a poor run in the Brexit negotiations, but this is likely to be too little too late.