With the general election just around the corner, could UKIP be the party to change the way we see Westminster?
None of the UK parties have begot the results that were expected or even that they promised in recent memory.
For the ruling coalition, five years of austerity and increased borrowing have left neither party in a good light whilst Labour have appeared limp and impotent with their inability to offer a strong alternative after 2015. People are being forced to tighten their belts as real terms pay cuts start to bite and prices continue rising.
Despite UK legislators being modestly paid compared to their European counterparts, an above-inflation pay rise for what many perceive to be an elitist group of people has only served to increase disenchantment with the system.
These feelings in certain constituencies could give UKIP enough votes to wake Westminster from its slumber; they won’t have their own bench in the Commons but a few close seconds to the big parties will set alarm bells ringing.
UKIP have so far been able to exploit the disaffected and Nigel Farage will hope his party can use this to make an impact on the 2015 general election. He knows that the main parties need to do more to retain swing voters and these are who he will look to target, particularly Conservatives who may feel they have been let down by David Cameron.
If his government wins the upcoming vote on intervention in Iraq, which they likely will, he will then have the uneasy task of juggling a fractious party and promoting a military intervention that currently divides the country and brings back painful memories (37 per cent for vs. 36 per cent against, according to YouGov). Expect an anti-war stance from UKIP.
UKIP have been consistently polling around the same level or just above the Liberal Democrats for over 18 months and the latest voting intention YouGov poll places them on 16 per cent, a full nine points higher than the Lib Dems. It is unlikely that the vote will mirror these polls but if they can take enough swing voters in targeted constituencies then they could severely embarrass all three parties by gaining second or third place.
After getting the highest share of the vote in the recent 2014 European elections, UKIP could be forgiven for being confident going into 2015. However, their core support remains small and their full manifesto lacks real credibility.
Moreover, the ugly spectre of racist and homophobic councillors and candidates refuses to go away, giving the impression that other UKIP members privately hold such views. Many people hear the name UKIP and either roll their eyes or shudder.
As long as credibility is an issue it will be enough to dissuade disillusioned voters from taking the plunge and voting UKIP at the ballot box. As long as they remain a fringe party, respectability will continue to elude them. A poll or a European election, especially in Britain, is one thing but in a general election most people revert to type.
Nigel Farage knows he needs to improve his party’s image; he has been trying hard to sweep his party of the racists and sexists of obscure middle England. The damage is done, however—people hear of UKIP and they already have an opinion. It is then that small pockets of respectability will be key for Farage. UKIP’s credibility benefitted hugely from the defection of ex-Tory MP Douglas Carswell.
The headline-making campaign in Clacton for the 9th October by-election was a test for a Conservative party that has not delivered on promises such as reducing migration and controlling the cost of living. Carswell, well-known and with the credibility of serving the area as a Conservative MP, made the people more comfortable voting UKIP.
In addition to this remarkable coup, the announcement that Farage himself will be fighting for a seat will revive the intense media attention that UKIP had in the recent European elections. This will be key to UKIP’s success, as the very nature of their vote winning strategy relies on publicity and exposure to voters whom they can then hope to sway.
UKIP won’t be kingmakers after next year’s general election. Their core support is not large enough and too many questions remain about their ability to behave like an established political party and take part in government responsibly.
On the other hand, it would not be unreasonable to think that Douglas Carswell or even Farage himself has a fair chance of gaining a seat in 2015.
There have been a few close calls in safe middle England Tory seats that may have the potential to push Labour or the Liberal Democrats into second or third in some places and thus 2015 could be the year that UKIP makes the leap to legitimacy.
Whatever happens they will still be a thorn in the side of the establishment; what remains to be seen is how big that thorn will be.