Originally written in response to an article entitled Wither UKIP? on John Redwood's blog, discussing the failure of UKIP to actually win seats in the election. John Redwood is one of those very few Tories who I actually have some time for. He has consistently stood up to his own party leadership on Europe and on climate change, and held on to some genuinely conservative ideas as the party has slid ever further left. He is a party politician and his own narrative on UKIP is obvious, but his questions appear genuine.
I have reposted my reply here.
I think in a sense Farage’s success and UKIP’s failure are two sides of the same coin. Farage is a hugely recognisable character, but by his own admission a “Marmite” politician who people tend to either love or hate. This has been extremely successful in getting UKIP’s message across to the country as a whole, but less so in generating strong pockets of local support that would enable them to win seats. I still wouldn’t call this an abject failure. 3.8 million votes is a massive result and puts them close to the glory days of the Lib Dems. The distribution of those votes is the problem. I am still optimistic longer term that UKIP can win seats and have an even greater impact on government, but it does need to do this at a local level, not just a national level through a charismatic and bombastic, yet sometimes divisive leader. I think this also answers your fourth question about why the party failed to make the breakthrough locally.
Whether now is the time to change to a different leader, or whether the party should build a stronger internal structure and groom future leaders more thoroughly is difficult to judge. Initially I thought that tearing up the resignation and moving on under Farage was sensible, but as the cracks begin to show (I don’t doubt exaggerated by a UKIP story hungry media) it’s starting to seem that an election might be the best way to decide that.
2010 was very different. UKIP was a far more marginalised, minority party. Since then we have had Cameron’s about turn on the Lisbon referendum and massive immigration, plus UKIP winning the European elections outright. He stood in Buckingham as standing against the speaker gave him a relatively high profile. He stood in Thanet because he is from Kent, and it’s a likely target seat.
As for UKIP’s purpose – I believe they very much still have one with the referendum, and even after the result, whatever that is. Firstly the referendum – I believe Cameron will offer something similar to the choice given to Scottish voters last year. A superficially attractive status quo, staying within the EU with a few concessions, or a vast unknown of “Out” which has been given no real thought or preparation ahead of the vote.
UKIP must make this case and this preparation because aside from a very few genuine withdrawalists int he main parties I don’t believe that the main parties will.
Secondly, there is a massive gulf between UKIP and all the main three parties on some very important issues. The greatest of these is the obsession with man made global warming and our response to it, on which Cameron is as one with Labour and the Liberal Democrats. After years of this meaning little more than expensive petrol and burdensome building regulations this is starting to bite in areas such as energy policy, and it’s very obviously and visibly wasting vast sums of money on projects such as wind farms. UKIP are helping awaken the public to this cynical alarmism.
Though UKIP may have been founded as a single issue party I believe it’s scope has grown to be much more than simply EU membership. On issues like climate change and immigration it is often on the edges of the Overton window, making a difficult and unfashionable case for things which mainstream Tory and Labour voters agree with but do not feel comfortable to say.