The UK Independence Party is a serious threat to the Conservativesby James Macintyre / June 28, 2012 / Leave a comment
Nigel Farage, “an exceptional anecdotalist and very good company,” has made UKIP a political force
For Peter Kellner’s YouGov charts and analysis, click here
The man who is bankrolling the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) lives and works at a penthouse in the heart of Mayfair, next to the famous Italian restaurant Cipriani. Etched into the building are the words “Too many laws, too few examples.” Inside, the lift ascends to a top floor sitting room with French windows opening onto a balcony overlooking central London. A maid prepares coffee with chocolate Bourbon biscuits. Then, up some steps, in sea-blue shirtsleeves, comes the unassuming figure of Stuart Wheeler, the 76-year-old multi-millionaire who a decade ago gave generously to the Conservatives and is now donating funds to UKIP.
Led by the telegenic Nigel Farage, UKIP is a now a serious political party. This year, it has doubled its support to 8 per cent, according to YouGov figures, on the back of dislike of Europe and immigration. In April, three polls showed UKIP as Britain’s “third party,” above the Lib Dems and peaking at 11 per cent. In the May local elections, UKIP averaged 13 per cent of the vote in the seats it contested. The party appears to have clinched a place as the acceptable face of nationalism, with its rival on the right, the BNP, seen by many as racist (a charge the BNP denies).
Commentators expect UKIP to perform very well at the European elections in June 2014. Farage claims that UKIP will replace the Lib Dems as Britain’s third party—a goal that is not impossible as the Lib Dems face potential devastation at the next general election, the penalty for their coalition with the Tories. But the Conservative party, divided over Europe, has most to fear. Polls regularly show a small majority of voters in favour of withdrawal from the EU. Yet Cameron is known not to want a referendum because of the priority of the Eurozone crisis, and the likelihood that a referendum would further split the Tory party.
There are two men who count in UKIP: Farage, leader from 2006-2009 and again since 2010, and Stuart Wheeler, generous donor since 2009. They are very different characters, but both show that UKIP can no longer be dismissed in British politics.
Farage acknowledges privately that his job is made easier with the Tories in power, as the…