Earlier in the week, we asked Ben Bradshaw (Labour MP for Exeter) for his views on UKIP and he tweeted, “Europhobic socially conservative right wing party with incoherent economic policy currently boosted by protest voting”. With that in mind Exeposé Comment decided to spend the day at the UKIP Spring Conference at The University of Exeter’s own Great Hall to investigate that claim.
Throughout the day we were witness to a variety of party speakers, only one of which didn’t know the difference between the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and former two-time World Heavyweight Champion turned grill advocate George Foreman.
Although there was no substantive mention of the word, “deficit” in any speech amid a wash of arguably half-baked environmental, transport and educational policy, it was made quite clear that, unsurprisingly, UKIP are quite vehemently anti-EU.
We took advantage of our increasing Facebook following to ask if it was in Britain’s national interest to leave the European Union. Of those polled, 63% responded that, no, Britain’s interests in fact lie in remaining in the EU. Of the members of the audience at the conference who we interviewed, Will Himms of Somerset and Joan Martin of Cinderford both strongly disagreed.
“I like all of the countries in it, but I don’t think that it’s the right thing to try and force them all to be together”, said Will. Joan agreed and added, “I look at the state of the other countries in the EU and I don’t want that for us.” On the other hand Joel Mason, Vice President of Exeter University Liberal Democrat Society, weighed in saying, “I’m not going to argue that the EU’s perfect; far from it, it’s got many problems but I think it would be a very rash thing to overlook a lot of the benefits that we get from the EU. [Business and crime among other issues] exist across borders…we need to try to adopt a transnational approach which is what the European Union allows us to do.”
It seems clear that there is a need for a degree of reform concerning our role in the EU, but the balance of cost versus reward remains unclear: are we paying too much in for little in return?
Nigel Farage was quick to dismiss UKIP’s recent surge in popularity as a protest vote, however the overwhelming response from the Exeter student community has seen it as just that. Of those polled, just 28% believed that UKIP could now be considered a major force in British politics.
We caught up with Jonno White, chairman of the Debate Society, who said in no uncertain terms that, “For the first time in a very long time the right is split in this country. [UKIP] seem to think that they can change politics…it is really a protest vote, now [the Liberal Democrats] are in government there’s no real other party to vote for in protest.” This sentiment was echoed by politics graduate Rob Owen who said, “They are a splinter group which is out of touch with most people in this country. They only have one major point in their manifesto and they will get swallowed back into the Conservatives within two years.”
In a response to the aforementioned poll, UKIP sympathiser and Exeter student Nick Best stated that, “Whatever you think of their policies you cannot deny they are a major party. They are going to do very well in future elections. They have a huge impact in Tory marginals, that is a major force.”
UKIP were taking the opportunity at their Spring Conference to prove how diverse a political party they are, with a presentation from candidate Winston McKenzie on UKIP’s contribution to, “the black and ethnic community” and a rather oddly scripted speech from extreme-right Bulgarian MEP Slavcho “Slavi” Binev concerning his professed friendship with Farage and his promises not to, “claim benefits while here” or, “bring his horse and cart”. There was a tangible tension on the topic of immigration which might lead many to think that UKIP’s anti-EU sentiments may not come from such an economic standpoint.
There was definitely an observable demographic in the conference audience; the majority of attendees were ageing and white. The challenge for UKIP is to increase their popularity with a new generation. Until then, as seen in our own polls, younger people will arguably still consider them nothing more than a minor party.
Dave Reynolds and James Bennett, Exeposé Comment.
For further reading see This isn’t the protest vote you’re looking for: Why we should say no to UKIP and UKIP: Filling the Void and Here to Stay. You’ve read the views of a variety of students and UKIP supporters. What, if anything, resonated with you or do you strongly disagree with? Leave a comment below or write to the Comment team at the Exeposé Comment Facebook Group.bookmark me