UKIP has an advantage that is not based on concrete policy proposals
But a lot has to be said for the state parliament finds itself in 2013. In 2008, the UK entered its longest and harshest economic crisis in 60 years, mainly caused by an unhinged financial sector. Economic growth has been almost non-existent since then.
In 2009, parliamentarians were publicly crucified for living lavishly on expenses paid by the taxpayer and trust in politicians plummeted considerably. MPs are yet to be acquitted by the court of public opinion.
In 2010 the public decided that there was to be no overall winner at the General Election, which took the country into a new political direction – mainly consensus politics. And in 2011 the phone hacking scandal in the press erupted and shook the nation considerably.
With some in the public now openly engaged in warfare with mainstream politicians and further compounded by a politically apathetic majority, UKIP vacuuming up the votes in the space left unoccupied was inevitable.
The public managed to deliver a puncture to the political spectrum in revenge for what Andrew Rawnsley refers to a ‘resentment felt by many voters that Britain is run in their own interests and those of their friends by a lookalike metropolitan elite who are all implicated in the economic mess.’ However, there is a case to be argued for the need to modernise, and move with the changing demographics of the country, if the parties want to be seen to be fit for government.
YouGov’s analysis of the results for the Observor on Sunday shows that UKIP voters worry mostly about the economy (59%) and immigration (51%), very disproportionately to voters as a whole that worry about immigration (31%). They also tend to be Tory voters who live in the Midlands, who are older and predominantly working class men. But coming second in South Shields would have sent chills down the spine of Labour Party strategists as well.
UKIP doesn’t currently have a clear-cut policy on immigration. It’s ‘undergoing a review and update’ according to its website. So rhetoric as opposed to actual policies drove its recent successes, which mobilised their supporters, who dislike today’s political class, to the ballot boxes.
David Cameron almost immediately came under pressure to change tack on a number of issues but mainly to bring forward the promised referendum on Europe. His Tory government and friendly backbench colleagues have toured the studios to pour cold water over the idea, and suggested the public needed to deliver a Tory majority in 2015 for the referendum, given that their Coalition partners and the Opposition would kill it off at the first reading in parliament. Good excuse, but will probably do little to win back support from their dissenting base.
Pollsters and political commentators will continue to dissect the results of last week’s local election results and will be conjuring up future predictions of how well UKIP will do at next year’s European and local elections. Cameron’s greatest difficulty is trying to effectively deliver his government’s programme of work without having to do a volte-face on a number of issues, in particular, immigration.
His record will show that he reduced immigration as promised and that’s how he should be judged – it’s also very likely that given the sluggish economy, senior minsters may have an allergic reaction to further draconian measures on immigration and a telling sign that senior Tories are happy with the current flow of immigration is the lack of primary legislation that has come forward to reduce immigration to the level of the early 90s.
The Coalition government continues to control immigration by tweaking Labour’s Points Based System (PBS). Not a single bit of primary legislation aimed at controlling immigration numbers has been introduced under a Tory Prime Minister since Edward Heath.
Nadine Dorries MP brainstormed the recent Eastleigh by-election results in which UKIP voters ‘lapped up’ the need for an Australian-style immigration system... much like the UK’s existing PBS, which is based on the Australian PBS. This is further confused by the fact that UKIP hasn’t got an immigration policy – so if the rhetoric is more draconian than its actual concrete proposals, then it can be argued that UKIP accepts the mainstream consensus on immigration policy, which gives them an illogical advantage that needs to be challenged.
The Tories are unlikely to change tack immediately in response to UKIP’s recent surge. They may (rightly) be banking on their tribe to return home and defend them against a Labour onslaught in 2015.
However, from now until the next General Election, the Conservatives are expected to experience a slump in their support at the ballot box. Now is the time to think of new ways to neutralise the UKIP appeal and attract Labour and Lib Dem supporters if they are to perform better in the 2015 election.