Is UKIP a serious threat?

UKIP

Le “parti de l’indépendance”, UKIP, semble être chaque jour une plus grande menace pour les deux grands partis britanniques (le parti travailliste et le parti conservateur). Après avoir remporté 27,5% des voix aux élections européennes de mai 2014, ce parti semble en effet avoir le vent en poupe pour les élections générale de mai 2015. Cependant de nombreux obstacles se dressent face à ces eurosceptiques. La crainte à l’égard de UKIP est-elle vraiment fondée ?

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The United Kingdom Independence party was created in 1993 by Alan Sked and members of the Anti-Federal League, a political party opposed to the Maastricht Treaty, in a view of a UK withdrawal from the European Union. The party was soon seen as a racist party (which is the reason why Alan Sked resigned, saying that the party contained people who “[were] racist and [had] been infected by the far-right”) but still gained momentum: in the 1999 European elections, UKIP gained three seats and 7% of the vote.

Since 2006, Nigel Farage has been the leader of UKIP and Paul Nuttal, the party’s deputy leader. The party has been doing very well: in 2011, UKIP won its first town hall, in Ramsay. Then in the local elections of 2013, they obtained 23%, almost as many votes as the Tories (25%) and the Labour party (29%). Then at the 2014 European elections 2014, UKIP obtained 27.5% of the votes and thus became the first UK party, with 23 out of 73 seats at the European Parliament.

The main subjects of UKIP’s policies concern Europe and immigration, but also the economy and health care, that is to say topics people are sensitive to.

UKIP is indeed a political force. Not only are there 23 Ukip members of the European Parliament, but also two Members of Parliament (Douglass Carswell and Mark Reckless, two former Conservatives) and three members of the House of Lords. In October 2014, UKIP reported a membership of over 40,000. This party of “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly”, as David Cameron once said, is so much more than a fringe party!

But why vote UKIP? The main reason may be euroscepticism but there are many other causes: immigration and distrust of the political establishment are two points which helped UKIP gain momentum. UKIP also seems to be “on the same wavelength” as its voters and to care about people. Strikingly enough, the typical UKIP voter is a 55-year-old person. Young people don’t back this party. According to an Opinium/Observer poll in December 2014 on the views of 17 to 22 year olds, Nigel Farage is the least popular political leader. Only 3% of the young people questioned said that they intended to vote for UKIP. According to experts, there would be no link between social class and likelihood of voting UKIP (although UKIP voters tended to feel more financially insecure than the average voter).

Here is a graph of the UKIP’s scores and forecasts (curve in purple):

courbes

Although it seems that UKIP is gaining momentum, it stands very little chance of winning the next general election on May 7th. First, because of the first-past-the post system, and second, because UKIP is known as a single-party issue, it won’t win a majority of seats in the House of Commons. For its voters, UKIP is a way of sending politicians a message: that they want to leave the European Union and they want to be listened to. And in a sense, they have already completed their goal because they obtained David Cameron’s promise that a referendum would occur in 2017 if he remained the PM.

But still, UKIP will be disruptive in 2015. The forecast announces that they are likely to win between 9 and 14% of the votes, which means that they could double their current representation in Parliament. But they could have the same numbers of seats as the Liberal Democrats, which could put them in the position of kingmaker, because the party that will win (The Tories or Labour) won’t have a majority, as in 2010, so the third force in the United Kingdom would be in a position to make demands. Thus, UKIP could have the possibility to negotiate with this party on the issues that matter the most to the party, Europe and immigration. And of course, Labour, as the only party (with the Liberal Democrats) that still defends Europe, couldn’t possibly compromise on that…

Laure DELAVALLEE & Sébastien DUFFAU

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