The Conservative majority has guaranteed an in/out EU referendum. That means that UKIP’s spell as a Conservative pressure group is finished. Great, well done. Or not quite so.
If Britain votes to stay that will be it. UKIP will have had their referendum, lost and will be confined to the dustbins of history. Again, not quite so.
UKIP were once effectively a pressure group. Of course now they still do get protest votes, but they have grown into a fully-fledged political machine. Perhaps they have grown too fast and still need to iron out the kinks. Afterall, they did come from a very low base in 2010 to 13% of the vote this May. The party has surged rapidly.
There’s two main reasons why UKIP will not cease to exist if the UK votes to stay in the EU.
Firstly, the case for leaving the European Union will not be dead. Referendums are meant to give power to the people to sort out big issues, but in reality they tend to intensify the debate and can kick the issue into the long grass, depending on how close the referendum is. Just look at Scotland: the unionist side won 55%-45%, but during the debate the number of people wanting independence grew substantially. After the referendum, the SNP seized on this and increased their support dramatically. If the ‘no’ side lose the EU referendum then something similar could happen with UKIP. However, polls suggest that a large chunk of the electorate would never vote UKIP so to get to that stage UKIP would need to make some changes.
If the result is close then the case to leave will still be present, waiting in the shadows for the next chance it can get.
Secondly, UKIP have another cause to fight for now, one left behind by the Liberal Democrats: making the case for electoral reform. The Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru will still all fight for change in this regard, but UKIP will be able to make the strongest case for change.
UKIP came third in terms of the popular vote, but their four million votes only translated into just one seat. If Douglas Carswell had not defected last year who knows if they would have any seats at all. UKIP will take advantage of the problems of first-past-the-post and make the case for change, keeping the party alive and well.
UKIP could of course disappear in the event the UK votes to stay in, but with the referendum likely to intensify the debate and the lack of fairness in the country's electoral system it's hard to imagine a situation where UKIP become irrelevant so soon.
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