Much has been written about the United Kingdom Independence Party’s (Ukip’s) steady surge in popularity. The eurosceptic party now routinely outpolls the Lib Dems, looks set to gain seats (and voting share) in the local elections and will almost certainly come either first or second in 2014’s European elections.
The commentariat consensus has long been that Ukip benefits from the disillusionment of grass-roots Tories, unhappy and offended by Cameroonism. This is undoubtedly true to some extent. As Conservative Vice Chairman Michael Fabricant has pointed out, “the blue-collar vote doesn’t understand the Conservative party… [Ukip leader Nigel Farage] said in Eastleigh that they connected with the electorate and I don’t think we are connecting with the electorate at the moment.”
But to look at Ukip and see only deserting Tories is to fundamentally misunderstand, and underestimate, their appeal. The academics Matthew Goodwin and Robert Ford (specialists in niche political movements) have analysed voting-intention data and discovered a perhaps surprising trend. They found that Ukip’s “core loyalists” vote for the party in all elections and are, compared with Ukips “strategic voters,” “more working class, more economically insecure, and more likely to say they come from Labour-voting families.”
It’s clear that Ukip’s appeal stretches far beyond blue-rinse golfers still mourning Thatcher’s exit from Number 10. And their second most successful media performer, deputy leader Paul Nuttall, provided some insight as to why white working-class voters might look to the party when he was interviewed on the Today programme earlier in the week. Discussing immigration, Nuttall couched his critique of the British establishment’s open-doors prejudices in language that specifically targeted the voters Labour has lost. He talked of the impact of immigrants (whom he acknowledged are often hard-working, industrious folk) in terms of young men and women in the north west to whom the doors of economic progress often seem slammed shut. He discussed the downward pressure that eastern European migrants place on wages and the unfair competition of a labour market rigged to favour over-qualified new arrivals (with lower wage and living expectations) over our own poor. This wasn’t some blunt, borderline xenophobic attack. It was empathy and nostalgia.
This sense—that Ukip actually cares about the fate of the white working class and their kids—provides…