As the public becomes increasingly Eurosceptic, Lisa Murgatroyd discusses how UKIP are becoming serious political contenders
The UK Independence Party was founded in 1993 “to campaign for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU”. They have been labelled many things in the last twenty years, accused of being racist, homophobic, xenophobic; written off by leading politicians with a shake of their head and a knowing smirk yet they are the UK’s fourth political party, and recent polls have seen them beating Lib Dem in local elections.
In fact, their standing is being taken so seriously as to prompt Michael Fabricant, the Conservative party vice-chairman, to suggest a pact with UKIP to avoid splitting the right-wing vote come the next general election. The suggestion, released on 25th November, was quickly dismissed by all sides, with the Conservative party issuing a statement saying, “Michael Fabricant does a great job campaigning in by-elections but he doesn’t speak for the party on this issue.”
Prime Minister David Cameron had already made enemies with UKIP after refusing to retract his comments describing UKIP members as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly” so it came as no surprise that UKIP leader Nigel Farage declared ‘war’ with the Tories on his personal Twitter account.
The party styles itself as a “libertarian, non-racist party seeking Britain’s withdrawal from the EU” but aside from their main aim of revoking EU membership, the party has received heavy criticism over its manifesto goals such as cuts in foreign aid and freezing immigration for five years. It is opposed to same sex marriage (although civil partnerships are OK), and there are often reports of links with the BNP (though the party continually makes serious efforts against any connection).
With all this in mind, how has the party managed to secure itself in the mainstream of British politics?
It is no coincidence their popularity has increased in a year which has seen the future of the Euro burnt down with the crashing European economy, and many people losing faith in the struggling Con-Dem coalition. Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University has found that 7% of people who voted Conservative in the last general election would now vote UKIP. A rocky campaign in Rotherham’s by-election on 29th November saw a serious compeition for the seat, traditionally a safe constituency for Labour since the 1930s following the controversy over a couple whose foster children were removed from their care because of the parents’ UKIP membership. Labour won the by-election, but UKIP saw their biggest result and taking 22% of the votes, beating their two-week old best of 14.3 per cent in Corby. Nigel Farage has declared victoy, as “the second party in the North” beating the coalition parties, with the Tories stumbling in at fourth in Rotherham, and the Lib Dems losing their deposit.
The outrage which followed this decision has brought substantial positive PR for the party, however this was marred by apparent confusion over the party line when the candidate for Croydon North made comments suggesting that it would not be “healthy” for children to be adopted by gay couples. Openly gay UKIP London chairman David Coburn insisted that his party supports equal rights for the LGBT community. Yet, he does not believe in the fight for same-sex marriage. In a statement published on Pink News earlier this year, Mr Coburn explained his party’s position. “I think it does the gay community no good whatever to cross the street and pick a fight with people of faith.”
His argument stems from the notion of ‘authoritarian’ versus ‘libertarian’. “The Lib-Lab-Con parties want to regulate everything you do and even what you think through their chosen instruments of ‘elf ‘n safety, Security mate!, political correctness and Equality Fascism.”
These words will certainly ring true to a majority of the public, which James Bethell, formerly the director of an anti-BNP campaign has labelled as ‘ANTI’ voters – politically Angry, economically Neglected, socially Traditional, focused on Immigration. Those people, not historically Tory members, who are disillusioned with and contemptuous of the political establishment. According to a Channel 4 survey in 2009, a majority of Tory, Labour and Lib Dem voters agreed that “all further immigration to the UK should be halted”. In last year’s HOPE not hate report, 63% of white Britons and almost half of Asians believed that immigration had been a bad thing for Britain.
The party has been stained by connections to far-right European parties, and with the problem of a support base that could be swayed as equally by the BNP, but to strike them off as far-right extremists themselves is an oversight. There is time yet until the next general election to iron out the creases in their manifesto, and as the calls for a referendum on UK membership in the EU strengthen, their fifteen minutes on the spotlight may turn to something more concrete.
“We believe in the minimum necessary government which defends individual freedom, supports those in real need, takes as little of our money as possible and doesn’t interfere in our lives.” These words, taken from the UKIP website, are ideals which will strike a chord with a majority but it remains to be seen whether they have anything to back them up.