‘Vote UKIP, get UKIP’: the tide has turned in British politics

Douglas Carswell

The argument from the Conservatives that a vote for UKIP is a vote for Miliband, is wearing thin. Clacton has changed everything

Under Britain’s first-past-the-post system, it is remarkably hard for smaller parties to enter parliament. But Nigel Farage’s party have broken into Westminster and are now looking to rise further in 2015. UKIP are on a rising tide and David Cameron is struggling to stop them.

The party have done well in European elections in the past for three reasons. They were a protest vote - both against the government and against Brussels. Secondly, there is a proportionally representative system in place, where smaller parties do well. And finally, there has been a core group in favour of UKIP policies.

UKIP’s core vote has expanded in recent years, as it’s message has chimed with more voters.

Looking back on the previous pattern of UKIP’s role in British politics results in an up-down-up-down effect, with high vote shares in European elections, then a fall back to negligeable single digits in general elections.

But with UKIP’s win in the European election this year, and its first MP, that pattern could be about to change.

Indeed, Stephen Fisher, an Associate Professor in Political Sociology at Oxford, said on the BBC, on Friday, that due to UKIP’s 15% share of the vote in opinion polls, it is likely that the party will sustain it’s momentum, but fall down to 13% of the vote. A 13% share would still be remarkably higher than the 3% it got in 2010 and the 2% or less in previous elections.

After Douglas Carswell’s election, the argument that a vote for Farage is a vote for Miliband, perpetuated by the Conservative party, is losing its strength. What UKIP can now do with last night’s results, is point at it and say: ‘A vote for UKIP, is a vote for UKIP.’ Not Ed Miliband, nor anyone else.

To counter this, speaking to the BBC on Friday, David Cameron has repeated the argument, saying: ‘if you vote UKIP, you're in danger of getting a Labour government’. In truth, both sides have points and both arguments have their merits. In some areas a vote for UKIP rather than the Conservatives could lead to a Labour win, but having gained an MP, UKIP now have proof that voting UKIP can get you UKIP.

As for UKIP and Labour, Nigel Farage, and his so-called ‘people’s army’ can say, pointing to the Heywood and Middleton by-election, is that they are not just appealing to ex-Conservatives. Whilst the defection of Douglas Carswell embodies just that, UKIP are making gains in Labour territory, showing to voters that those in the north, who oppose Labour, could switch to UKIP as it becomes a‘northern opposition’.

The next test for UKIP is the Rochester by-election, where UKIP are expected to do well in and are likely to win. Like Douglas Carswell, the UKIP candidate, Mark Reckless, left the Conservative party and joined UKIP.

Whether he can repeat Carswell’s victory will be seen when the by-election takes place.