There is no doubt that if there were annual political party awards then UKIP would have collected the award for ‘most-improved’: they have emerged as a genuine rival to the Liberal Democrats for the title of being the UK’s third party, as the polls have shown over the last year; they came second in the by-elections in Rotherham, Middlesbrough and Eastleigh, beating the Conservatives on all three occasions; and they enjoyed their best ever result in local government elections in 2013, returning 147 councillors. However, whilst UKIP are enjoying their moment in the sun, they potentially face falling into political darkness once again.
With the 2015 General Election on the not too distant horizon, inevitably, one of the most fascinating points of discussion is what sort of impact UKIP can actually have on the result after their most fruitful period in their short existence over the last year. Can they really stamp their mark on the election that really matters in our centralised system? Or will they prove to be a political one-hit wonder and return to electoral wilderness?
I am going to suggest that the answer to the latter is a resounding ‘yes’, irrespective of UKIP’s recent successes. My simple reasoning as to why, in some ways, it is the beginning of the end for UKIP as a political party is that they are primarily based around a single-issue, which is of course leaving the European Union. During the Coalition’s term in office, UKIP’s single-issue has dramatically risen to be a matter that needs urgently addressing, much to the distress of Mr Cameron I can imagine, as it is no secret that history shows that the topic of Europe seems to be the Achilles heel of the Conservatives.
The sudden uptake in support for UKIP is a curse in disguise as a blessing for them, because this same sudden uptake has naturally triggered and will continue to trigger responses from the main parties. This is simply because the Conservatives and Labour, in particular, understand that the electoral cost in 2015 could be fatally damaging to their chances of gaining an outright majority if they do not offer the people a policy on Europe that they desire. Cameron has been quick on the uptake, pledging to offer an in-out referendum in 2017. Labour, on the other hand, have unsurprisingly been rather slower to react but I am sure that come election time we will see them offer something similar as Ed Balls admitted, it would be ‘stupid’ for Labour to rule out offering a referendum.
The losers in all of this are UKIP because, although they now boast an extensive manifesto of policies on other areas like the economy, they cannot realistically aim to compete with the main parties on these other parts of public policy as that simply is not what the vast majority of people vote for them on. Therefore, if come January 2015 the three main parties have outlined a policy on Europe that the electorate are generally happy with (which I strongly suspect they will), then UKIP do not have a strong enough foundation upon which to be voted for.
In essence, what I am trying to get at is that once the big EU debate has been properly addressed through holding a referendum or any other means in the next ten years, UKIP’s electoral attraction will fall dramatically. In the best case scenario for UKIP, the UK will exit the EU completely. What’s Farage’s next move? What’s the long-term plan after they have succeeded on the issue that their very existence was founded upon? Because I sincerely doubt UKIP could rely on a few tough immigration policies to see them through into the on-going future as an electable party.
In the literal sense, UKIP’s success will most probably be their downfall. Of course we can still expect to see them stick around on the political map to win seats in the European elections and campaign heavily to come out of Europe if an in-out referendum is held by the next government, but in terms of their longevity as a serious party at general elections, I see their moment in the sun ending abruptly as the latest polls are already beginning to show. Obviously there are many more complexities and variables than I have been unable to address in this short piece, but I do hope I have shed some light on how I see UKIP’s immediate future panning out.