Sunday, 30 January 2011

It’s only a matter of time before UKIP over take the Lib Dems...

...according to Ed West! A sensational claim, if ever there was one! I guess how you view time will go a long way to determining how shocked you are by West's suggestion. For instance, if he's is talking in the 'It's only a matter of time before Manchester United score' sense then it's extremely farfetched. However, if we read it in a similar context to 'it's only a matter of time before Mount Vesuvius erupts again' the statement becomes a little more plausible!

Either way, the criteria West appears to be placing on this potentially major shift in the British political system is quite low. In two recent YouGov polls UKIP have reached the dizzying heights of 5% in Westminster voting intentions, and in one they were ahead of the Liberal Democrats in the 18-24 subset. Compelling evidence? Clearly not. The Lib Dems were still a few points above UKIP in the headline figures and subsets are hugely volatile, un-weighted small samples. Of course, when you bring in polling from other companies, such as ICM, which are showing the Liberal Democrats are starting to move back towards 15% the argument unwinds even further.

So the polling 'evidence' is spurious, to say the least; how are UKIP doing in some other measures of party size? They trail the Liberal Democrats in Membership (approx 60000/15000 in 2009), MPs (57/0), Devolved Assemblies Members* (24/0) and Councillors (approx 4000/22). They did, of course, beat the Lib Dems in the 2009 European Parliament elections, receiving almost 3% more of the vote and two more seats. I think few would argue that this doesn't really make up for the fact they are miles behind in every other gauge!

There are, however, some serious points to be made on all this. UKIP's main problem is they don't have a recognisable 'core vote'. Essentially, UKIP just have those who want to leave the EU at all costs. Not the firmest of foundations for a political party considering there isn't much stopping almost any party adopting this stance. Just for a second consider this; what would be the point in UKIP if Britain pulled out of the EU? Obviously this would be mission accomplished, but it then suddenly vanished this would suggest all they have ever been is a protest movement masquerading as political party. I'm quite sure those actively involved in UKIP would disagree with that assertion.

The members clearly have more complex political aspirations they have huge issues to address if they are ever to overtaking the Liberal Democrats as a political entity. The Lib Dems are safe in the knowledge they can rely on the support of many small 'l' liberals. In fact, the size of this vote has probably been shown as the party low struggled to poll below 10%, despite the best efforts of their leaders! This slice of the electorate is essentially unable to support the big two's respective policies in areas such as crime and immigration. In turn, neither Labour nor the Tories can soften their stance on these issues to attract these voters for fear of losing their own core supporters. Arguably, the Green Party's base is stronger than UKIPs, as staunch environmentalists see are unlikely to move towards the big parties with their less than convincing moves on Green issues.

What UKIP do have right now is a huge opportunity which could, in the long run, see them poll 10%+ consistently. It would require them to move away from the current perception that it is merely a one issue party (perhaps a name change?!). The coalition has presented the perfect opportunity for a right wing populist party to gain a hold in British politics, albeit probably not one as brash as Geert Wilders' PVV in the Netherlands. If the party positioned themselves correctly, and changed their emphasis, they could attract a fair few right wing Tories' attention for slightly longer than just a Euro election campaign.

In addition, during the last year a couple of other potential steams of new support have opened up for UKIP. They well placed to attract any anti-establishment voters who had previously supported the Liberal Democrats. More importantly, the apparent demise of the British National Party could well benefit UKIP electorally. I have always felt the bulk of BNP voters are attracted to the party's xenophobic streak rather than the far left aspects of their fledgling domestic policies. UKIP's stance on matters such as the Burka marks the party put as an obvious alternative, even if any BNP switchers do not necessarily sign up to the full repertoire of the Daily Mail's touchstone issues.

Having said all that, there is one big caveat; where is the UKIP 'Brighton'? It's all very well polling 10% consistently, but it's hard to see where the party can get its first MP elected. Last May Nigel Farage ended up a poor third following his high profile campaign in Buckinghamshire, whilst no other candidate managed to get above 10% of the vote. No matter how UKIP position itself politically they are never going to breakthrough unless they learn to use FPTP or the electoral system is changed. I imagine this is the primary driver behind their support for the Yes2AV campaign in the forthcoming referendum!


Ps. Don't be too hard on Ed West. He isn't the first, and he certainly won't be the last, blogger to publish a sensational article (or use a controversial title) to increase traffic!

* This includes MSPs, Welsh AMs and London AMs.


  1. Another contender is of course the Green Party, which is placing well for instance in polls in relation to the Scots and Welsh elections, which will be important this year; and UKIP is much weaker in Scotland and Wales.
    An important point here is that socio-demographically LibDem voters are more likely to go to the Green Party than to UKIP. If the LibDem vote drops even further, it may well therefore be the Greens that benefit.

  2. I think one of the problems with these sorts of discussions is that it's impossible to tell who and how many people vote for the Lib Dems for each of the differing reasons (i.e LD supporters/voters, tactical voters etc).

    Many people, especially in places like Scotland, North of England, Wales and others vote LD as a tactical vote to keep the Tories out and that's now a tricky situation - what will these people do at the next election now that they're in bed with the Tories for the moment? Will they vote for another party, or realise that changing their vote might let the Tory in? Or will they see the LD getting in as a Tory being elected?

    Also, some people do vote differently in the different elections, and UKIP are still weak in Scotland/Wales so I can't see them doing much in either of those countries.

    On the whole though, I don't really see UKIP picking up that many LD votes overall. I'd think that the LD voters/supports/members who are most unhappy with what they're saying are the more left-wing people and so in that sense it will be left who pick up the votes (Labour, SNP, PC, Green etc). The tactical voters will probably split many ways if they do, but I'd think the LD supporters/members would most likely vote Green, and maybe SNP here in Scotland, especially people who see themselves as being Social Liberals.

  3. The BNP is not 'demising', and i think most see through UKIP. They claim to not care about political correctness, but they still smear the BNP, refused to democratically debate Derek Adams (the BNP candidate at the Oldham by-election) and thirdly hosted a puppet black candidate for their leadership election just to be multiracial. So much for opposing political correctness...anyone who thinks UKIP is a real alternitive is deluded, they are no different than Lib-Lab-Con.

    What was Farage caught on TV saying about the Oldham election? He said UKIP's only goal was to ''trash the BNP''...interesting indeed. UKIP are clearly state controlled with the only aim of smashing the BNP (the only real opposition), and are certianly poser 'right wing populists'. Anyone who can't see this is blind.

  4. @Rupert and Jamie

    The Greens are certainly well placed to pick up Lib Dem voters who are as much against the Labour/Tory dominance of British politics than they are for the Lib Dems. But I'd argue a lot of the Greens' policies would not be compatible with small 'l' liberal voters, which is why I doubt the Lib Dems can drop much lower than 10%.

    As for UKIP, in the unlikely event they ever did usurp the Lib Dems as the third party it would almost certainly be at the expense of the Conservatives. Straight LD to UKIP switching would be less prevalent, although by no means non-existent.