Will UKIP Survive?
‘Paul Nuttall is now faced with two paths: UKIP’s decline or rejuvenation’
Luke Woodmansee | 9 January 2017

The UK Independence Party (UKIP) was founded on the 3rd September 1993 by Professor Alan Sked. UKIP is a right-wing Eurosceptic party, disapproving of immigration and supportive of nationalism. Their share of the popular vote increased from 3.2% in the 2010 general election to 12.9% in 2015, behind only Labour and the Conservatives. However, in 2015 they only gained one seat in the House of Commons, despite gaining 3,881,099 votes. Nevertheless, their huge increase in popularity suggests that the party might not leave the spotlight.

Furthermore, there has been a global rise in right-wing views: in the UK alone the centre-right has taken back control through the Conservatives. The National Front in France has seen increasing popularity after the migrant crisis in Europe. Lastly, the USA has voted in a rather radical president who was heavily endorsed by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage. So, with this global change in attitudes to the right, UKIP’s membership could grow, following their trend over the last 5 years.

The key question facing UKIP since the European Union (EU) referendum is: what do they now stand for? UKIP’s main policy was to get the UK out of the EU and subsequently the free market. So, now that they have helped to achieve this goal, following the UK’s vote to leave the EU, what will people gain from voting for the party? To give an idea of what it is like in the case of UKIP, if a pressure group is campaigning to stop a government policy or act, such as High Speed Rail 2 (HS2), then what would happen if they won? Overnight, the pressure group would fold. They would have achieved what they were looking to achieve, so there would be no need for a ‘Stop HS2’ group.

The evidence of UKIP’s decline as a major party in UK politics is the clear leadership problems in the party. Nigel Farage had been the leader for 10 years. Then, in the last two years, he has resigned and been reinstated more than once. After the general election of 2015 he announced his resignation after failing to win his seat. He then, however, expressed his desire to continue leading UKIP after the Conservatives put through the plans for the EU referendum. The UK Independence Party has, since the referendum, seen Nigel Farage leave his position, saying he only stayed as leader to continue campaigning for Brexit. The following leader, Diane James, lasted just 18 days. Once again, Nigel Farage was made interim leader, but only until another permanent leader was chosen.

One possible replacement for Farage, Steven Woolfe, withdrew from the leadership race after an ‘altercation’ with fellow Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Mike Hookem, which led to Mr Woolfe collapsing in the EU Parliament in Strasbourg and being taken to hospital. Since then, the lack of coverage of the UKIP leadership race suggests that the party, under new leader Paul Nuttall, could just dissolve away into the history books. UKIP continues to state that it is here to ensure that Brexit goes ahead, but with just one MP it has little to no power in the House of Commons. This could later result in their only seat at the next election being taken away by another party.

UKIP has enjoyed a stronger voice in the European Parliament. UKIP was the largest party in the UK in the 2014 EU Parliament election, gaining 11 seats, to overtake the Conservatives and Labour parties. But one quite considerable problem faces them: after the process of leaving the EU, described in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, is completed, the UK will forfeit its seats in the European Parliament. Ironically, UKIP's biggest strength will soon be taken away by itself, by indirectly voting themselves out of power.

Arguably, UKIP is in crisis condition. Is there any need for them after the vote to leave the EU? Or will we see their membership and popularity grow due to the growing migrant crisis, global fears on immigration and anger at the current centre parties growing more and more unpopular? The answers to these questions are, like the questions themselves, merely speculation. But it is clear that Paul Nuttall is now faced with two paths: UKIP’s decline or, as he undoubtedly wishes, its rejuvenation.

Image sourced under Creative Commons License.

James Routledge 2016