Last month, in local council elections, UKIP made gains as the Tories lost control of 10 councils. UKIP were expected to do well, but many were surprised by how well they did – averaging 25% of the vote in the wards in which it stood, and winning over 140 seats. Should the three main parties react by changing their policies, or simply hope that people will vote differently in 2015?
It is important to understand what is tempting traditional Conservative supporters to UKIP, in order to consider how the Conservative party should react. UKIP’s ratings rose four points to 19 per cent in May, despite Cameron’s efforts to regain control of the crucial debate over Britain’s relationship with the EU.
Cameron has pledged to hold an in-out referendum on the EU by the end of 2017 if the Conservatives win the next General Election, but has insisted on first trying to renegotiate the UK’s position within the EU. UKIP have understood the public desire for a referendum – polling shows that 46% of people would vote to leave the EU if a referendum were held now, only 25% would vote to stay in. The private member’s bill introduced by James Wharton MP (and discussed in last month’s blog) is intended to show that the party are intending to keep their promise, and prevent further voters moving across to UKIP.
Despite beliefs that by being strong on Europe, Conservatives will tempt voters from UKIP, polls show that the main concerns of UKIP voters are immigration and the economy, with
Europe a distant third. The social profile of most UKIP supporters differs from traditional Conservatives as they tend to be blue-collar workers, and voters on lower, less secure incomes. These are the people that are most strongly affected by poorly controlled immigration and austerity measures, and so the Conservatives need to appeal to the concerns of these voters on issues such as multiculturalism, immigration and job security if they wish to succeed in 2015.
Polls on the Conservative Home website found that 34% would support a pact with Nigel Farage (although a similar number would not), although Farage has declared that Cameron would need to be replaced before talks could begin. A number of sitting Conservative MPs support a pact as they fear that UKIP will split the Right and take enough votes from the Tories to allow Ed Miliband to triumph in 2015.
Although Labour have not been hurt as much as the Conservatives until now, this is likely to change as many UKIP supporters would have traditionally been working-class Labour supporters. As a populist party, UKIP is likely to pick up support most strongly from whoever is in charge. However, a senior UKIP member has said: “The low-hanging fruit for us are not former Tories, but people who have traditionally and culturally always been Labour.” In the council elections, UKIP gained their best results on working-class areas, and so Miliband and his shadow cabinet will need to decide what their policies are on immigration and the economy if they want to prevent further losses. Despite poor economic growth, and internal Tory divisions over gay marriage and Europe, Labour’s lead has continued to fall in 2013, and further UKIP growth is likely to damage Labour significantly going forward.
Lord Heseltine has expressed this view about UKIP’s recent success: “There’s always a midterm protest. It used to be the Lib Dems. They’re now tied up with government, so they can’t be a protest group. So UKIP has arrived.” UKIP have started to turn protest into lasting support. The Lib Dems need to consider how to maintain their position as third party in the UK, as UKIP’s support in Scotland now rivals theirs. UKIP is certain to receive a large boost in next year’s European parliament election, most likely beating the Conservatives into second and perhaps even taking the top spot from Labour.