What does UKIP mean for Britain?

How do you perceive the rise of the UKIP? Is it more about external factors (economic crisis, etc…) or it has something to do we with some internal changes of UK politics and society, or is it basically a mix of all factors? Read few comments.

Sophie Loussouarn, Senior Lecturer, University of Amiens and Paris III-Sorbonne Nouvelle

The success of UKIP in the European elections on 22 May 2014 has inspired its plan for a loud general election campaign. UKIP was founded 21 years ago in 1993 by Alan Skedd and it spent 20 years in the wilderness. It is a Eurosceptic party and a party of rebellion. The party has evolved from an anti-federalist party into a party of protest rallying all the voters who are disillusioned with traditional parties.

The party has neither the manpower nor the money to match the established parties but after two successful by-elections, it has learned how to overcome the first-past-the-post. UKIP has two Members of Parliament in the House of Commons (Thomas Carswell the MP for Clacton and Mark Reckless the MP for Rochester), three representatives in the House of Lords and 24 MEPs, making it the largest British party in the European Parliament. The majority of UKIP voters are blue-collar workers who are more worried about wages than Europe. The rise of UKIP can be ascribed to the economic crisis of 2008 and the rise of immigration in the UK. UKIP‘s rise is based on the party‘s appeal to a wide range of disaffected voters. UKIP represents the common man against the political elite. Its grassroots base is growing and it has a membership of 40,000. UKIP’s support is coming from the disillusioned but engaged. It is also coming from elderly people. With the collapse of the Liberal Democrats people are looking for an anti-politics choice.

UKIP will play a pivotal role in the general election but UKIP remains marginal. The SNP is the kingmaker with 55% of the vote in Scotland. UKIP is ahead of the Liberal Democrats in the national polls but cannot get more than 4 or 5 seats in the House of Commons because of the first-past-the-post system which favours majority parties and discriminates against smaller parties. A poll predicted that Nigel Farage would win a seat for Thanet South in Kent in the general election with 38,6%.

UKIP is emerging as a second force in dozens of constituencies. Labour will be confronted with the same challenge that socialists are struggling to contain in France : a radical right widening its reach in their industrial heartlands.

The rise of UKIP has led Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to control immigration and to promise a referendum on British membership of the EU in 2017 if the Conservative party won the general election on 7 May 2015.

47% of the British people say UKIP is not a credible party, up 11 points since last year. Support for UKIP is in decline.

Christian Schweiger, Senior Lecturer in Government, Department of Politics, Durham University

I think the main reason for UKIP’s temporary surge in the opinion polls, predominantly in the past two years, was the growing disillusionment of many people with their personal economic and social circumstances. The standard of living in the UK amongst low- to middle-income earners has fallen substantially since the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition came into government in May 2010. The profound austerity programme the Cameron/Clegg government introduced resulted in a record level of job losses in the public sector and also essentially five years of wage stagnation in the public (and also the private) sector. Many people therefore felt squeezed between stagnating incomes or even unemployment and rising costs of living (e.g. spiralling house prices in the South East of the country). Like most populist parties in Europe UKIP tried to appeal to these voters by exploiting what have become growing levels of dissatisfaction with mainstream politics.

Nigel Farage’s catchphrase of branding UKIP as ‘the people’s army’ which would fight against what he brands as a detached Westminster political elite that does not care about the concerns ordinary people have, therefore started to become appealing. This was even more so as David Cameron and parts of the British media relentlessly put the issue of an alleged mass influx of poverty migration from Eastern Europe on the agenda. In the past two years the media was full of reports that warned that Britain would be subject to a mass influx of Bulgarians and Romanians who were keen to come to the UK to live on welfare benefits and to exploit public services, most of all the National Health Service. Farage put this at the top of UKIP’s agenda and warned that this poverty migration would come on top of a decade of workers’ migration from other CEE countries, who as he portrayed it were ‘taking away the jobs of ordinary British folk’. He continues to emphasise that Britain’s EU membership essentially forces the country to accept this unwanted migration: ‘There is nothing we can do to control our borders as long as we are in the EU’.

As you will have seen the mixed message of anti-establishment/anti-immigration and anti-EU populism reached the peak of public support during last May’s European parliament elections. In the current election campaign UKIP’s poll ratings have fallen slightly and rather than immigration and the EU voters now priorities the economy and the future of the NHS. I would therefore say that UKIP has exceeded its peak which is reflected by the fact that according to latest poll projections Nigel Farage
may not win the seat in the constituency of South Taneth, where he is standing as candidate. He has already announced that he would resign as leader if he does not win the seat, which would be a substantial blow to UKIP. Overall the polls predict that UKIP will retain two seats in the House of Commons at the most, although its overall percentage of votes may turn out to be around 13 per cent, which of course does not matter very much in the UK’s first-past-the-post system where you need to win seats rather than percentages.

Victoria Honeyman, Lecturer in Politics, POLIS, University of Leeds

It seems to be a mix. in difficult economic times, people often look for someone to blame, which could be a contributory factor. There are, however, places in Britain which have been really effected by immigration and the main parties avoided talking about this, causing frustration and further disengagement. UKIP moved into the gap and spoke to those people, using the issue of immigration to sell their core message on the EU.

Mark Bennister, Senior Lecturer in Politics, Canterbury Christ Church University

UKIP has fallen in the polls and may not get more than 3 parliamentary seats. It may however gain 15 per cent the vote and influence the outcome in several seats. The rise of UKIP is largely based on a combination of disaffected Conservative eurosceptics and anti-immigration white working class sentiment coupled with disillusion with the main parties. The charismatic leadership of Nigel Farage has driven the anti-immigration rhetoric as Europe has fallen down the list of priorities for voters.

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