By: Hilary Flack
The United Kingdom Independence Party, more commonly known as UKIP, is a minority party in the United Kingdom. Despite being known as a radical right-wing party, UKIP has experienced increased support in recent years. The party is currently led by Nigel Farage, a former Tory who left the Conservative Party in the early 1990s due, in large part, to his dislike of the restrictions EU membership placed on the UK. UKIP’s political positions haven’t changed much since its formation in 1993. The party remains staunchly anti-Europe and right-wing.
UKIP is easily one of the farthest right political parties in the UK. It is therefore surprising that UKIPs membership and share of the vote has risen in recent years. Since 2002, UKIP membership has grown from 2,000 people to almost 50,000. In the 1997 general election, UKIP received only 105,722 votes, representing 0.3% of the overall vote. In the 2010 general election, UKIP received 919,546 votes, representing 3.1% of the overall vote. Though UKIP did not take any seats in the 2010 election, they received the 4th largest share of the vote, only behind the well-established Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat Parties.
As the 2015 election approaches, analysts are predicting that UKIP’s support will continue to grow. Professor Bogdanor of Kings College London, who specializes in British politics and constitutional issues, informed the BBC in a recent interview that he does not expect UKIP to fade away any time soon. Professor Bogdanor believes the growing popularity of UKIP “reflects changes in British Society” as the party is “more working class” than the other major parties. As Europe’s economy continues to decline, it is not hard to see why more British citizens are attracted to a party that advocates severing economic ties to the EU.
The 2015 general election is scheduled to be held on May 7th. Though many commentators are predicting that no real change will occur in terms of party control, polling data suggests that UKIP will gain an even larger share of the vote than in the 2010 election. Recently, voters dissatisfied with their parties have shifted increasingly towards smaller parties, instead of between the larger parties in the UK. While it may be unsurprising that some defecting from the Conservative party have joined UKIP, it is also true that UKIP has gained support from former Labour, and even Green party members. The 18-24 year old voting block, termed ‘Generation Y’, has experienced a significant shift towards UKIP. Traditionally, this voting block is firmly held by the Labour party. However, Labour is slowly losing its majority to minority parties. It is highly significant that some Generation Y voters are leaving Labour not to join another liberal party, but instead to join UKIP. This indicates that UKIP’s conservative and nationalistic positions are appealing not only to their traditional base of older middle class voters, but across the board.
It is clear that UKIP will not be forming a government in the UK any time soon. However, UKIP’s growing popularity may serve to disrupt the hold the three largest parties have on the voters in the UK. UKIP’s numbers and popularity are still increasing, reflecting both the UK electorate’s dissatisfaction with the EU and the slow decline of the two party system in the UK. Though the question of its overall success in coming elections remains to be seen, it does seem that UKIP is here to stay.
Hilary Flack is a 3L at The Pennsylvania State University–The Dickinson School of Law, and a Senior Editor on the Journal of Law and International Affairs.