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A thorough analysis with a fatal flaw
on 16 April 2014
Ford and Goodwin have produced an extensive and detailed volume on the novel political phenomenon that is UKIP. The degree and depth of their analysis far exceeds anything which has gone before, and this three hundred page book, published in the spring of 2014, could justifiably be considered the definitive work on the rise of UKIP as an electoral force in the twenty years following its birth in 1993.
F & G are keen to identify the types of voters attracted to UKIP, and to this end they make extensive use of statistical analyses to identify the typical UKIP supporter. Their thorough research leads them to dismiss the simplistic journalistic stereotype of UKIP voters largely as disaffected middle class Tories. Yes such people exist in the Party hierarchy, and yes the Party founders may have been of this ilk, but UKIP today is also supported at the ballot box by a very different kind of voter. Those who now vote for Nigel Farage are, on average, lower down the social scale than supporters of any other political Party including Labour. They are the disaffected, the elderly and those hit by the hard economic times. They are the old traditional working class and those who feel their country is morphing into something unrecognizable from the one they grew up in - and is much the worse for all that. UKIP supporters may have started out as EU refuseniks but to this campaign they have added many other anti-establishment woes. Foremost amongst these has been mass immigration, which surged during the Blair years and has continued at a high level ever since. And since all three major parties have been in power for at least some of this period, this has allowed UKIP to exploit its electoral message of ‘a plague on all your houses’ to the whole Westminster establishment.
A major theme of ‘Revolt on the Right’ is that UKIP has achieved success unparalleled by any other new British political party in modern times. Even the SDP/Liberal Alliance of the early 1980s, with its own MPs in Westminster, failed to sustain its campaign for as long as UKIP has done. The authors could however have made a little more of the explosive growth from political obscurity in the 1960s and 70s of the SNP and Plaid Cymru. And the celtic nationalists’ motivating sentiment of “we don’t want to be governed from far-away Westminster” surely has echoes in “we don’t want to be governed from far-away Brussels”.
In Chapter 6, Ford and Goodwin turn their attention to how UKIP could gain MPs in the 2015 General Election. Based on their extensive analyses of the beliefs, motivations and social backgrounds of UKIP voters they seek to identify those Parliamentary seats which hold most promise for the Party. Where are the traditional working class concentrated, where the elderly, where those with low levels of education? They identify what they claim to be the ten top prospects. But this is where they go wrong, and this is what reduces an otherwise five-star review to just three stars. For in drawing up their list, F & G should also have considered the electoral pull of the other Parties in each of these ten seats, and it is surprising that they have not done so.
In 2015 Labour will be on the offensive. It will be bouncing back from its historic electoral lows of 2009 and 2010. It will be gaining votes not losing them. There have for instance been sixteen Parliamentary by-elections since 2011. UKIP’s vote share may have gone up in fifteen of these but, critically, so has Labour’s in twelve. The Tory and Lib Dem votes by contrast have gone down in fourteen and thirteen respectively. So what are the authors suggesting as UKIP’s top ten prospects? Eight seats which are currently held by Labour and two by the Tories!
Ford and Goodwin had correctly identified the social and demographic factors most likely to lead to UKIP success. However, Parliamentary constituencies with these distinctive features are not just confined to Labour areas. All three Parties hold constituencies with these characteristics, so why would UKIP want to make its job more difficult? The strongly repeating voting patterns from the by-elections summarised above strongly suggest that the seats most likely to produce UKIP victories in 2015 are those which are true to the F & G formula but which, in addition, are currently held by MPs of the waning Conservative and demoralised Lib Dem Parties, and not those of the ascendant Labour Party. UKIP strategists will no doubt be planning accordingly.