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