A surge in UKIP’s poll rating is worrying, but shouldn’t be read as a radical shift in British political sympathies. In the end, what UKIP stands for, and why they have ‘support’ are two very different things.
A poll in today’s Observer, conducted by Opinium, has nearly a third of the British voting public willing to support UKIP if they had a chance of winning in their constituency. Given that both Labour and the Conservatives are currently bumping along at around 34% it almost as if the big two parties have become a big three. Given what UKIP stands for, and the people who make up the party, that is a worrying conclusion.
It’s a conclusion, however, that is far from the whole story, or is perhaps just wholly misleading.
There are several factors that have given horsepower to the UKIP bandwagon. At a party-political level, there are hard-right Conservatives who never liked the leadership of Cameron and Osborne, especially given they failed to deliver an electoral victory in 2010, and have split away. By this route they have their first parliamentary member in Douglas Carswell.
At grassroots level, there are very many disaffected Thatcherite Tories and/or fruitcake/closet racists who make up Conservative activists, who in any case tend to be to the right of their leadership. They are vigorously campaigning for UKIP, and are NIgel Farage’s true believers. In addition to these there are those disenfranchised in one way or another, taken for granted by the Labour party, or who have somewhat directionless grievances looking for a protest vote.
So far, so familiar. That UKIP have picked up ‘support’ from a variety of constituencies is why they could simultaneously win in Clacton and run Labour so close in Heywood. It’s one of Farage’s most potent threats against the established parties.
The British public has not suddenly become a bunch of raging Faragistes, however. In real political terms UKIP is little more than a single-issue pressure group, with no prizes for knowing what that single issue is. They are primarily a party of ‘no’. No to the EU, to migration, to ‘Westminster politics’, migration, the benefits system as it exists, and so on. They present no positive alternatives. Farage famously disowned his party’s 2005 manifesto and has made no signs of wanting to commit any to any policies, much less well-thought out, funded ones. Those that do emerge are right-wing fantasising of the most abject kind.
People who say they support UKIP (and will they actually mark their ballot in their favour?) don’t necessarily support the stance on the EU, or any of UKIP’s policies because Farage has kept them deliberately vague. As the party of ‘no’ he can continue to lob brickbats from the sidelines and see a very flabby, inflated bounce in the polls continue to grow and swell. The air will have to come out at some point, a windbag deflating once its bubble bursts.
Listen to this clip of a self-declared UKIP supporter vainly evading questions on what his part-of-choice stands for. Farage knows, somewhere in his ale-fuddled brain, that at some point he is going to be the one scratching around for answers. There is only so far that the boozy bonhomie of the UKIP leader will go with an electorate that has real problems, and needs concrete, not purple-and-yellow plastic, solutions.