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UKIP’s New Attraction?

Photo credits to Jari Jackonen
Photo credits to Jari Jackonen
As the UKIP spring conference gets underway in Exeter University’s Great Hall, Meg Lawrence asks whether their surprising election result in the Eastleigh by-election was merely the result of political protest or the start of a new trend of growing popularity for the party.

Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, is undoubtedly confident in his party’s position following the recent Eastleigh by-election. Although the seat was won by the Liberal Democrat candidate Mike Thornton, UKIP gained almost 28% of the vote, ahead of the Conservative candidate Maria Hutchings, who won just 14%. Whilst some claim this victory over the Conservative and Labour parties is merely the result of political protest, Farage has assured his audience at the Exeter conference that this recent surge in votes reflects growing support for the party.

There’s no doubt that he knows how to pour a soothing balm over the voting public’s open sores, and he’s adept at capitalising on key issues that are always so prominent in the midst of a recession. Hence we see the regular reappearance of immigration, Europe, taxation and class in his rhetoric. But, how likely is he to turn this recent support into effective politics?

UKIP, formed in the 1990s, are yet to hold a seat in the House of Commons, and have been criticised by many for their anti-immigration policies. Speaking at the conference, Farage claimed that the Eastleigh results revealed a “wholesale rejection of the political class”. He went on to state: “It’s something far more powerful than a protest vote. Actually the vast majority of the people going out and voting UKIP in these by-elections do so because we are the people that are putting forward positive alternative policies that would make this country a better and prouder place.”

Here, Farage talks sense in so much as the voting public wants a better and prouder country- one where bankers don’t get away with uncheckable greed, politicians don’t fleece the expenses systems, bosses don’t look the other way when they recognise wrong doing and journalists don’t use underhand methods to extract an exclusive story. They’re after a country that is honest, fair and free. But no political party, least of all UKIP, is promising that. UKIP’s policies play to people’s fears and that doesn’t make the country any better or prouder, but rather encourages negative views towards immigrants and Britain’s stance in Europe.

The Eastleigh by-election itself was proof of the fact that you don’t need a popular political manifesto to gain votes. Ray Hall’s Beer, Baccy and Crumpet Party gained a total of 235 votes in the by-election, whilst David Bishop’s Elvis Loves Pets party received 72 votes. Perhaps not all voters were quite so light hearted in their voting, but there is no doubt that UKIP gained more votes because the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties consistently fail to deliver their promises.

For as long as we’re in recession, Farage will find favour with the voting public. The real test will be how popular he remains once unemployment and the economy are no longer keeping the voting public awake at night.

Meg Lawrence, Online Features Editor 

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