Explanations for UKIP's election success
- 23 May 2014
- From the section UK Politics
A seismic shift in the political landscape may have propelled UKIP into the nation's council chambers. But beyond earthquake metaphors, how have the party and its rivals explained the party's success in the English local elections?
The Farage effect
With his affable, man-of-the-people persona, seeming most at home down the pub clasping a pint, Nigel Farage cuts a different dash from other party leaders. He's more Boris than Brown. How should they respond to the threat he poses to their share of the vote? "Sounding like human beings might help," comments the Telegraph's James Kirkup. "All of us have gotten to the point where we are so guarded, we are so on message that we seem to have lost some of our humanity," concedes Lib Dem Lynn Featherstone. "We speak the same, we look the same, we sound the same, we have similar polices," says Labour's Sadiq Khan.
Immigration: Upping the anti
UKIP "travels light" on policy, according to the Guardian's Patrick Wintour - but there is nothing lightweight about the party's commitment to drastic curbs on immigration. According to pollsters YouGov, 54% of the public recently declared that immigration from Bulgaria and Romania would be "damaging" to the UK. Mr Farage's straightforward condemnation of Britain's "open door" to the entire population of Europe is clear and simple to understand. Labour's Yvette Cooper told the BBC in the wake of the elections that her party needed to talk more about the immigration issue, which was a major issue on the doorsteps.
Key to achieving UKIP's immigration curbs is withdrawing the UK from the EU, given that the freedom of movement of workers is a fundamental right in the bloc. Beyond immigration and the EU, polling from YouGov suggests that even one in four UKIP voters know nothing at all about the party's other policies. Among the population at large, this proportion rises to 60%. Mr Farage himself suggests that his rivals' reluctance to agree to an in/out referendum on EU membership was the "best recruiting sergeant" his party could wish for. Malcolm Buckley, the ex-Conservative leader of Basildon Council, who lost his seat to UKIP, told 5live: "David Cameron and the cabinet really have failed to recognise what grassroots Tories think. We believe in a firm, fair Britain. And at the moment what we're seeing is concession after concession and interference after interference, in particular from Brussels."
Dredging up Mr Cameron's eight-year-old depiction of UKIP members as "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists", the UKIP man constructed a narrative for viewers of the BBC News channel. "Mr Cameron views UKIP as being members of the lower orders. We really are not worthy even to be in the room with him." By casting aspersions on UKIP's core supporters, he implied, the Eton-educated PM has repelled swathes of Eurosceptics who might otherwise vote for him. It was left to Conservative Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles - with his less than elitist Yorkshire accent - to protest on the BBC's election special: "I like to think I am the authentic voice of the lower orders."
Neil Hamilton said London was "difficult territory" for UKIP because it was so "cosmopolitan". Earlier it was put to the party's communities spokesman, Suzanne Evans, on BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the party had some difficulty appealing to Londoners because they tended to be "cultural, educated, and young" - reportedly a direct quote from one of her fellow UKIP spokesmen. The party was "increasingly" attracting such people, she replied - but not yet in London. After much criticism of her role in these exchanges, Ms Evans said she was emphatically "NOT saying non-Londoners [are] 'thick'". But there is no point denying that most research and polls suggest the party has significant support among older voters - a demographic group that is both growing in size and remains more likely to vote.
People are temporarily fed up
UKIP are "awkward devils", explains stalwart Labour MP Austin Mitchell, the "Millwall party". They have latched on to a "good deal of discontent outside of London", where both economic activity and local government services have declined, he told the BBC. But this is just a phase, a "temporary phenomenon", he declared, and predictions that the party would capture his own parliamentary seat of Great Grimsby in 2015 were premature.
Or maybe not so temporarily fed up
Labour leader Ed Miliband said the results were not a reflection on his leadership. He said he thought there had been discontent building up for decades about the way the country has been run "and about the way our economy works and people feeling that the country just doesn't work for them". So, he added, what you are seeing in some parts of the country "is people turning to UKIP as an expression of that discontent and that desire for change". Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg also blamed a "very strong anti-politics feeling" among voters.
An aspiring Oxfordshire councillor was suspended from UKIP in January after he said the government's decision to legalise gay marriage may have caused widespread flooding. But could there be a link between Thursday's heavy weather and the subsequent deluge of UKIP councillors? Labour's Mr Mitchell argued that the "awful" polling day weather deterred all but the most committed electors from turning out. But he offered no explanation for why this would be. Are Labour supporters less able to wield umbrellas? Do Lib Dems never don anoraks? If a few downpours can have such an impact, the long-term effects of Thursday's earthquake are surely yet to be determined.