UKIP – RIP? Increasing signs that the UKIP bubble has burst (with a small lesson from history?)

First, they are slipping in the polls. A YouGov poll has them at only 7%, a massive slippage from their previous double figures polling and triumphs like the 2014 European election results where the achieved 26.6% of the vote and 24 MEPs. At the last General Election in 2015 they managed nearly 13% of the national vote, 3.8m votes, but only won one seat.

Second, and probably of more symbolic importance, they are losing credibility. The only UKIP MP, Douglas Carswell, left the Party after having successfully defected from the Tories and defended his Clacton seat in a by-election in 2014, and again in 2015. But their new leader, Paul Nuttall, failed dramatically in Stoke in 2017, getting only a quarter of the vote in a seat seen as a prime UKIP target. More importantly the Party seemed riven by internal faction fighting after 2015 and the departure of Nigel Farage as leader.

Nigel Farage – still an MEP – was widely expected to contest a strong “Brexit” constituency in the surprise 2017 General Election. He has declined to stand. He vaingloriously claims he could “easily” win a seat (at the 8th attempt) but has selflessly decided to stay in the European Parliament (collecting his larger than an MPs salary) instead.

But Farage’s actions speak much louder than his words – he clearly does not really expect a UKIP “surge” but quite the contrary – UKIP is about to retreat.

The Conservatives are now main ‘Brexit’, anti-immigration, pro-Grammar Schools, Party and for those UKIP voters motivated by these sorts of issues there’s little point voting for an alternative.

If they are UKIPpers of a more socially-minded stripe – what might be called the ‘nationalist-socialist’* wing – the have the now pro-Brexit Labour of Jeremy Corbyn to vote for. Labour has made it clear they will follow “the will of the people” and make sure Brexit happens, so if you are a former Labour voter who was lured away by UKIP, why not return?

Of course these sorts of trends aren’t absolutes – lots of UKIPs 2m voters in 2015 will stick with tem in 2017, but not enough, or enough in concentrated areas, to win any MPs.

A LESSON FROM HISTORY – THE NATIONAL FRONT IN THE 70s

There is a small historical parallel here. In the 1970s we had a, much smaller, far-right Party emerging and starting to make an impact on UK politics – the National Front (NF). The NF were a more ‘classic’ neo-fascist Party focused on (black) immigration but with a broad spectrum of far-right policies. And, unlike UKIP, they were also in the classic fascist mold of an “action Party” – carry-out provocative and intimidating demonstrations in migrant areas.

The NF also stood in elections. They were very small compared to recent UKIP performance – the gained only 0.1% of the vote in the 1970 General Election, but they started to grow and by Feb 1974 they were up to 0.2% and then doubled their vote to 0.4% in Oct 74. By May 1977 they gained over 100,000 votes in the Greater London Council Elections and were able to field 303 candidates in the 1979 General Election gaining 0.6% (nearly 200,000).

After 1979 the NF went into steep decline and disintegrated in factional in-fighting.

One reason for the decline was undoubtedly the ferocious and popular anti-fascist campaigns of Rock Against Racism, the Anti Nazi League and others who both mobilized opinion and fought the NF in the streets*.

But the main reason for NFs collapse was undoubtedly the election of Margaret Thatcher’s right-wing and much more anti-immigration Conservatives in 1979. A lot of what the NF were demanding about immigration looked set to be implemented by Thatcher, undermining the NFs reason for existence.

The lesson here is that once the Tories converted – as Theresa May put it “we are all Brexiteers now” – there is little room left for UKIP?

*(I confess was one of those organizing quite a lot of the latter and have the convictions to prove it).

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