This week’s European elections have produced fascinating and, in many countries, uncomfortable shifts in electoral support-see Paul Mason’s blog piece here (though we shouldn’t forget Italy, where the centre-left has won and Greece and Spain, where the far left topped the polls). The results have already led to the Irish Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the opposition in Spain stepping down.

In the UK, attention has focused on UKIP, the minority anti-EU party that has ‘won’ the European Parliamentary elections, or at least got more votes than any other party, and done relatively well locally. The big question is whether UKIP will influence the 2015 General Election or fade away. Will UKIP be the (indirect) kingmaker or just a bad dream by this time next year? Below I’ve set out some of the different sides of the argument so that you can make up your own mind.

UKIP is here to stay: Kingmaker in 2015?

Journalist Michael Crick points out in this post that the UKIP vote in the local elections is slightly down on previous years. However, winning council seats means being able to build organisations and networks in local areas to help get out the UKIP vote in 2015. UKIP is putting down roots across the country.

But will voters stay with them? Some argue that the UKIP votes are just a ‘protest’ vote and supporters will ‘return’ to their ‘normal’ parties for the election that matters-the General Election. This data from Lord Ashcroft’s polling shows that many UKIP voters (they estimate 50%) are likely to stay with UKIP in 2015-other pollsters agree.

Just to make the situation more complicated, it isn’t clear that UKIP will cut down Conservative votes and ‘let in’ Labour. Analysis by the authors of the new book about UKIP voters, ‘Revolt on the Right’, indicates that UKIP’s appeal is cross-party and attracts as many unhappy Labour voters as Conservatives-see their results in Rotherham (Ed Miliband’s constituency) and this piece here.

So UKIP may not win seats but may make the 2015 General Election very complicated and unpredictable. This article expains how UKIP could cause ‘chaos’ and create ‘an electoral map of nightmarish complexity’ in certain crucial seats.Even before the UKIP surge, 2015 was already going to be very close indeed. This prediction gives a ‘dead heat in 2015’ with the Conservatives on 36.1%, and Labour on 36.5%. On a side note, Ashcroft’s poll for the constituency of South Thanet, where Nigel Farage is rumoured to be standing in the General Election, puts UKIP support very high-see pg 1 column ‘voting intention’ and ‘certain to vote’.

UKIP fades away: A bad dream in 2015?

Not everyone is sure of UKIP’s new power. Smaller parties votes have always fallen back, often sharply, in national elections. More importantly, the First Past the Post system at Westminster makes it very difficult for minor parties to win seats, as this analysis explains.

The Telegraph’s Benedict Brogan is not convinced that UKIP’s momentum can be maintained. He points out that UKIP will now be under sustained media scrutiny (which didn’t always work successfully for them, especially in the last few weeks) and will have to begin explaining its domestic policies, which may be difficult. One of the most important players will be the media and how it covers UKIP for the next 12 months.

How well UKIP as a party can cope with the stresses and strains of being a ‘fourth’ political party is debateable-see this analysis of UKIP in local government. Brogan also points out that there have been many ‘new’ political parties ‘enjoying a moment of popularity…Remember the SDP? The Alliance? The Greens? Or even the Lib Dems, who under Nick Clegg have gone from breakthrough in 2010 to breakdown this weekend’.

One thing we can say for certain is that the next year will be interesting. Success is not all about seats and you may see UKIP’s influence in the policies that other parties now start to adopt. Keep an eye on the coming Newark by-election-will UKIP win their first seat?

Ben Worthy is Lecturer in Politics


By: monsterspade

Most Politics Departments would struggle to host hundreds of bibulous political authors and journalists, particularly if accompanied by MPs, literary luminaries and academic liggers. Not 10 Gower Street, which last night embraced big tent politics by hosting The Orwell Prize’s 21st birthday awards in its garden marquee.

The prize was established in 1993 by Professor Bernard Crick, a founder of the Department and Orwell’s biographer. Each year a jury honours an author and a journalist whose work best meets Orwell’s ambition “to make political writing into an art”.

Former Home Secretary Alan Johnson’s chipper account of his impoverished West London upbringing, This Boy: Memoir of a Childhoodwon the book prize.  The Guardian’s Ghaith Abdul-Ahad scooped the journalism award for his forensic coverage of Syria’s civil war-see a recent article here. Both winners faced stiff competition from a shortlist that included Not For Turning, Charles Moore’s biography of Margaret Thatcher and David Goodhart’s British Dream about the history and impact of immigration. The journalists’ shortlist featured lead-writers from the Economist, Financial Times and Telegraph.

The journal Political Quarterly is a prize sponsor, as is Orwell’s son, Richard Blair. Alongside the main awards, the department’s Deborah Mabbett received the best essay prize for her incisive writing on welfare reform.  The evening saw two new awards launched for the coming year: one to reward young political writers, while a prize for the best investigative reporting into social iniquities is being sponsored by the Rowntree Foundation.

Today – amidst EU and local polling – hangovers and political egos are being nursed while print and social media coverage of the awards proliferates and the marquee is dismantled downstairs. Meanwhile, the Department’s long association with both Orwell and distinguished political writing, as exemplified by both Bernard Crick and Ben Pimlott, will continue. The latter’s biographical work is examined in detail by Dermot Hodson in an interview with Orwell Prize chair, Jean Seaton, published here this week.

You can read George Orwell’s famous 1946 essay on writing about politics, ‘Politics and the English Language’, here and a collection of encounters with Orwell’s work here.

David Styan is a Lecturer in Politics


Prof. Ben Pimlott

Prof. Ben Pimlott

Earlier this year, the Department of Politics at Birkbeck launched the Ben Pimlott Writer in Residence Programme. This programme allows writers to spend up to a year at Birkbeck working on a book or series of articles on a political theme aimed at a broad readership. It is named in honour of the late Ben Pimlott, who joined the Department of Politics as a lecturer in 1981 before becoming Professor of Politics and Contemporary History in 1987. In the two decades that he spent at Birkbeck, Ben earned a reputation as a first-rate teacher, a fine scholar and a brilliant writer. He is best remembered for his books on Hugh Dalton, Harold Wilson and Queen Elizabeth II, writings which resonated well beyond the ivory tower and encouraged readers to think again about British politics and the art of political biography.

Political writing, like all serious writing, is a peculiar mix of the solitary and the social. It requires long hours spent alone but such solitariness makes little sense without family, friends and readers. Jean Seaton played all three roles during her twenty-seven year marriage to Ben Pimlott. Ben made no secret of the fact that he wrote with and for Jean, who is Professor of Media History at the University of Westminster, official historian of the BBC and Director of the Orwell Prize for political writing. Ben not only dedicated The Queen to Jean and their three sons, he also acknowledged the day-to-day importance of her thinking on the monarchy for his work. Testament to such thinking is Jean’s afterword to the Diamond Jubilee edition of the book, which provides a fascinating insight into how the monarchy came through the crisis of legitimacy that engulfed it in the 1990s and, in so doing, confirmed Ben’s central argument. To mark the launch of the Ben Pimlott Writer in Residence Programme and the 2014 Orwell Prize Ceremony, which will be held at Birkbeck, I met Jean at her home in Islington to talk about political writing. Continue reading