The Ukip leader is good at diagnosing many British people's complaints, but where's the manifesto?by Serena Kutchinsky, Bronwen Maddox / March 20, 2015 / Leave a comment
“We’ll get a handful of seats, I think—but no one knows,” said Nigel Farage. Pressed on what a handful means, he joked: “it depends on how many fingers you’ve got on your hands—four? Five?”
In any case, the UK Independence Party will field “630 to 640 candidates” for the 7th May general election, contesting almost all of the United Kingdom’s 650 parliamentary seats. “It’s always good to have more money, but we’re managing with the funds we’ve got,” he said.
Polls show that Ukip’s support is down to around 14 per cent, five points behind its peak late last year, but that immigration, the issue with which the party is most closely associated, still tops the list of voters’ concerns. Ukip is thought unlikely to win more than four to six seats under the first past the post system. But the high chance of a hung parliament, and the party’s insistence on an early referendum on membership of the European Union as the price for any support of the Conservatives, means that its performance could still have a significant impact on the next government.
More than that, though, the election will show whether Ukip has managed to convert antipathy to immigration and the EU into a lasting political force. It will show whether Farage has managed to marshal its more unruly members into something that resembles a modern political party that could survive even without the unifying pull of its leader’s charisma. The Ukip spring conference in Margate was a notably gaffe-free and professional affair, and Farage has a bracing schedule for the final weeks before the election. Speaking to Prospect between a meeting at his publishers (to mark the launch of his new book The Purple Revolution, which charts the rise of Ukip) and a London housing event on Tuesday prior to the Budget, he was more disciplined and less garrulous than he has seemed for months.
“One of the big elements of Ukip’s support is non-voters,” he said. “For me, the most remarkable result so far was the Rochester and Strood by-election [which was won by the Conservative defector Mark Reckless on 20th November]. We polled 42 per cent of the vote, the Conservative share was down by around 14 per cent, and Labour’s by 11 per cent. The Labour switch to us was significant in Rochester and Strood but it is non-voters coming to us that mean the sums are up in the air. Nobody knows what the impact of Ukip is going to be.”