Top positive review
Excellent account of the rise of UKIP
24 September 2016
First of all, ignore the ignorant one-star reviews of this book, which have not bothered to try and engage with its contents. They are sounding off about something else. This is not a hatchet job by a couple of liberal academics against people they do not like. It is rigorous and judicious assessment of both UKIP as a party and what sort of people support it and why they think the way they do. It is seeking to explain, not condemn. The book is based on solid demographic research and by talking to key UKIP figures and makes three key findings.
First, UKIP has involved from a single-issue pressure group into a fully-fledged political party with an underlying ideology. Despite its missteps, it is a far more professional and sophisticated outfit than it once was. It has built up a political machine. On this point however, I am not altogether convinced. Post-referendum, UKIP will struggle to define its purpose and I am not too sure if UKIP has laid solid institutional foundations to allow it to develop a profile based on a set of ideas that transcend personalities and don't need the showmanship of its former leader, Farage, to sustain them. The rise of Theresa May as the Tories' leader, and her brand of back-to-the-50s suburban Tory values, probably offers something more to the liking of many of its key activists than Cameron did. Co-option and assimilation by the Tories are real hazards for the party over the coming years.
Second, much of its support is based on former Labour voters - white, older and working-class voters, especially. When this observation was made, just a few years ago, this was going against the conventional wisdom of much of the commentariat which tended to write off UKIP supporters as a combination of disaffected Tory voters and the dross of the far right. Since then, the data provided by the General Election of 2015 and the 2016 EU Referendum has been conclusive: UKIP has made significant inroads in traditional English and Welsh Labour heartlands. On this point, the authors have been more than vindicated.
Explaining the basis of this support is hard to answer. In theory, UKIP's free market policies should put working class voters off (why it does not needs more explanation) but many of these voters seem to look past this and warm to its appeal to 'traditional' British values. At the heart of this is a form of class conflict, but one defined as much by values as economics. Middle-class, metropolitan Labour supporters subscribe to a different set of values to many traditional Labour supporters. We have scarcely begun to digest the implications of this, not just for Labour's electoral prospects, but for the wider implications about a divided country, with opposing definitions of identity and belonging.
That brings us to the third finding. Ideologically the party rejects the blood and soil nationalism of the British National Party and purports to be a civic nationalist party - that is, it is open to members of any race and creed, provided they accept core 'British values.' That said, It has struggled to win over BME voters and the young - and there is no doubt that some of its support has been creamed off the now defunct BNP. It is certainly opposed to the middle-class cosmopolitanism shared by all three mainstream party leaders at the time the book was written, Cameron, Clegg and Miliband. This does not merit the designation 'fascist' but it is proper to situate the party to the right of the mainstream, in its cultural values. This explains much of its appeal - many of its supporters feel alienated by mainstream middle-class values and this party speaks to them.
The barriers to UKIP's wider breakthrough are the nature of the first-past-the-post system and the diffusion of its support geographically. it is wide but not deep enough anywhere for it to deliver clusters of seats in parliament. This has been the bane of all would be third parties in the UK. It has not shown thus far that it can surmount these barriers. Those are not the sum of its problems, as we discussed above. Still, whether it is destined to rise or fall over the coming years, none of the underlying issues that the rise of the party have highlighted are going to vanish anytime soon. Even if UKIP were to disappear tomorrow, this book would still be relevant and topical and will carry on being so for many years to come, because it deals with the underlying cultural and values conflict that will persist, for a very long time.