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Challenges and Challengers: Is the Mould Breaking?

UKIP's Performance in the 2015 General Election: A Series of Unfulfilled Expectations

Les élections législatives de 2015 au Royaume-Uni : Quel bilan pour le UKIP ?
Karine Tournier-Sol

Abstracts

As 2015 began, UKIP's electoral prospects for the upcoming general election looked definitely good; expectations were high among the Ukippers, all the more so since another hung parliament seemed very likely, possibly giving the party a role to play in determining the balance of power. As it turned out, the results fell short of the party's expectations as UKIP only returned one MP to Westminster. This paper aims at assessing UKIP's performance in the 2015 general election by first focusing on the campaign, in which the party found it hard to capture attention, despite Nigel Farage's confrontational tactics. The election was also marked by the party's efforts to demonstrate that it had reached a new stage in its evolution and had gained credibility, notably through a wide-ranging and fully-costed manifesto, which will be examined in a second part. Finally, although the "UKIP effect" was not as significant as expected, the results of the election will be analysed and put into perspective in the third part, also reflecting on the brief civil war which erupted in the party ranks in the aftermath of the election. The paper will conclude on the party's prospects in the perspective of the EU referendum which David Cameron's victory has now firmly set on the political agenda.

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12014 was undoubtedly the best year in UKIP's history. The party's continuous rise since 2012 culminated in its historic victory at the European elections in May 2014. Following this political earthquake, the positive dynamic enjoyed by UKIP showed no sign of slowing down and translated into the (no less historic) election of the first two UKIP MPs in by-elections triggered by the defections of two Conservative MPs, Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless. As 2014 drew to an end, the party's electoral prospects for the upcoming general election therefore looked unexpectedly good, with opinion polls predicting that UKIP was on its way towards winning up to a dozen seats. Expectations were thus high among the Ukippers in the run-up to the election campaign, all the more so since another hung parliament seemed very likely, possibly giving UKIP a role to play in determining the balance of power.

2However, despite these encouraging signs, there were still major obstacles for UKIP to overcome in the forthcoming general election. Until then, the party's electoral success had been limited to second-order elections, which are traditionally used by voters to express their dissatisfaction with the party in government. The question was therefore whether the populist party was only a recipient of the protest vote or whether it could turn its growing support into positive endorsement in a general election – a first-order election in which the first-past-the-post system acts as a barrier to the representation of small parties. The 2015 general election therefore represented UKIP's biggest challenge so far. It would also put to the test the process of professionalisation the party had recently entered with the aim of achieving a new dimension in British politics. The stakes were thus high, especially for its leader, Nigel Farage, who stood for the constituency of South Thanet and had announced that he would resign if he did not win the seat, considering that he would not be a credible leader anymore. UKIP therefore seemed to be at a critical moment of its history.

3As it turned out, the results fell short of the party's expectations as UKIP only returned one MP to Westminster. This paper aims at examining UKIP's performance in the 2015 general election by first focusing on the campaign, in which the party found it hard to exist and capture attention, despite Nigel Farage's confrontational tactics. The election was also marked by the party's efforts to demonstrate that it had reached a new stage in its evolution and had gained credibility, notably through a wide-ranging and fully-costed manifesto, which we shall turn to in a second part. Finally, although the "UKIP effect" was not as significant as expected, the results of the election will be analysed and put into perspective in the third part, which will also reflect on the brief civil war which erupted in the party ranks in the aftermath of the election. This will lead us to conclude on the party's prospects in the perspective of the EU referendum which David Cameron's victory has now firmly put on the political agenda.

A disappointing campaign

  • 1 Daniel BOFFEY, "'I'm fit as a flea' insists Nigel Farage as poll shows UKIP has lost ground", The G (...)
  • 2 Nigel FARAGE, "UKIP is the only party that offers a real alternative", Daily Express, 31 March 2015

4In the early months of 2015 – referred to as "the pre-campaign" – UKIP kept a relatively low profile. Its charismatic leader, usually keen to capture media attention, was surprisingly absent from the headlines – so much so that rumours of ill-health started to circulate, prompting Nigel Farage to respond publicly at the party spring conference by insisting that he was as "fit as a flea".1 He later explained that this unusual reserve had been part of a deliberate political strategy to save his energy and "best lines for the campaign proper".2 In the final weeks of the campaign, he finally admitted suffering from back pain and receiving treatment.

5Unfortunately for UKIP, its supposedly low-key strategy during the pre-campaign was not emulated by all its official representatives, and as often in the party's history, a series of scandals erupted, causing embarrassment in the run-up to the general election. In March, UKIP MEP and parliamentary candidate Janice Atkinson was expelled from the party over an expenses scandal. Shortly afterwards, David Coburn, the only Scottish UKIP MEP, also made the headlines for comparing Scottish minister Humza Yousaf to Islamist terrorist Abu Hamza. In the weeks up to the election, gaffes and controversial comments multiplied, leading several parliamentary candidates to stand down. This was actually nothing new or exceptional, and while Nigel Farage complained of media bias, the fact is that this gaffe-prone aspect of UKIP is very much linked to its nature as a party of amateurs, in contrast with the professional politicians that it castigates in its political discourse. Although opinion polls have repeatedly shown that those scandals do not affect UKIP support, at the time they distracted attention from the party's message and reinforced the impression that the UKIP campaign was having trouble taking off.

6Certainly more harmful for the party was the manifest confusion over its immigration policy, which is now the central focus of the party and also the main driver of UKIP support. In the space of a few days, its immigration targets changed from 50,000 to 30,000 before being dropped altogether, thereby blurring the party's message on its core policy and undermining its credibility. Such ambiguity is particularly detrimental for populist parties like UKIP whose success is built on a clear, simple and straightforward discourse. When the official campaign started on 30 March, UKIP had lost ground, as reflected in the opinion polls which showed that, on average, support for UKIP had slipped from 19% in the autumn to 14% in the first months of 2015.

  • 3 Loc. cit.
  • 4 Rowena MASON, "Nigel Farage: immigration has left Britain almost unrecognisable", The Guardian, 31 (...)

7Unsurprisingly, UKIP chose to focus its campaign on immigration, which was the "biggest election issue of all" as Nigel Farage wrote in the Daily Express.3 Symbolically, the UKIP leader launched his party's campaign in St Margaret's Bay, near Dover, where he unveiled UKIP's first election poster, featuring three escalators leading up to the top of the White Cliffs in Dover and saying: "Immigration is three times higher than the Tories promised" – the poster itself being a modification of one which had been used for the European elections a year earlier. Nigel Farage argued that not only does immigration put pressure on wages and public services, but it also has a cultural impact on communities and "has left Britain almost unrecognizable"4 from what it was 10 to 15 years ago. Those arguments had already been aired during the pre-campaign and were to be developed further. In particular, UKIP wanted new immigrants to pay for private health insurance for 5 years before benefiting from the NHS – the same system had been suggested for schooling, sparking controversy, and it was eventually dropped. But the most contentious idea put forward by the UKIP leader was to prevent migrants suffering from life-threatening diseases, such as AIDS, from coming to the UK so that British taxpayers would not have to pay for foreigners' expensive treatments.

8The highest point of the campaign was certainly the seven leaders' debate broadcast on ITV on 2 April. As a good TV performer, Nigel Farage was a clear favourite in this debate, all the more so since one year earlier he had come out as the definite winner of the two debates he had had with Nick Clegg on Europe ahead of the European elections. The UKIP leader started by playing the usual populist card, saying that the six other leaders were all the same, supporting EU membership and thus open-door immigration, contrary to him and his party. Later on, he resorted to more aggressive tactics and repeated his opposition to what he termed "health tourism":

9Here’s a fact, and I’m sure other people will be mortified that I dare to talk about it. There are 7000 diagnoses in this country every year for people who are HIV positive, which is not a good place for any of them to be, I know, but 60% of them are not British nationals. You can come into Britain, from anywhere in the world, and get diagnosed with HIV, and get the anti-retroviral drugs which cost up to £25,000 per year per patient. I know there are some horrible things happening in many parts of the world, but what we need to do is to put the NHS for British people and families who, in many cases, have paid into this system for decades.5

10This intervention provoked outrage on social media, and on the TV set Leanne Wood, leader of Plaid Cymru, replied to Farage: "You ought to be ashamed of yourself". This was typical Farage, playing the provocative card to capture attention, thereby appearing as a divisive, polarising figure arousing strong feelings, whether positive or negative, as polls demonstrated after the debate. Yet, unfortunately for him, the leader who made the strongest impression that night was Nicola Sturgeon, who appeared to have stolen the show away from him, appearing as the new rising star. In a further move to attract attention in this campaign where he found it hard to exist, Nigel Farage used confrontational tactics again during one of the BBC debates, turning on the audience and its "left-wing standards", obviously playing polemical to strike the voters' minds.

11While resorting to aggressive tactics to catch attention, the party's campaign also endeavoured to prove that UKIP had reached a new political dimension. The party tried to position itself as a credible political force with a role to play in the balance of power after the election as opinion polls predicted another hung parliament. Nigel Farage declared that he was ready to strike a deal with the Conservative party in return for an immediate referendum on EU membership. UKIP clearly aimed to achieve a new political status in this election and to appear as a plausible coalition partner. Part of this rebranding strategy was the party's manifesto which was supposed to herald a new era for UKIP.

UKIP's manifesto: a bid for credibility

  • 6 "Nigel Farage: 2010 UKIP manifesto was 'drivel'", BBC News, 24 January 2014.
  • 7 UKIP, Believe in Britain, UKIP Manifesto, 2015, p. 5.

12UKIP launched its manifesto on 15 April. The document, entitled "Believe in Britain", is 76 pages long. Its ambition was clearly to show that UKIP has reached a new stage in its evolution, reflecting the process of professionalization it has been undergoing in the last couple of years. The party's efforts to gain credibility is illustrated by its claim that its programme is fully-costed as it has been audited by an independent think-tank, in contrast with the 2010 general election manifesto which had been later dismissed by Nigel Farage as "nonsense and drivel".6 Suzanne Evans, UKIP's deputy chairman and policy chief in charge of writing the manifesto, presented it as an answer to UKIP's detractors: "Our manifesto also throws down the gauntlet to those who have ridiculed us, jeered at us and lied about our voters, our people and our policies. It tells the truth about what UKIP stands for".7 The party's wish to be taken seriously is mirrored in its endeavour to present a wide-ranging programme, going beyond immigration and Europe, although according to the manifesto, funding of its plans was mainly to be provided by withdrawal from the European Union (EU).

  • 8 Ibid., p. 3.
  • 9 Ibid., p. 58.

13Throughout the document, UKIP reasserted its populist credentials, presenting itself as the only real alternative to the other parties which it claims are all the same. The party obviously targets former abstainers who have been identified as part of its potential electorate: "Now there is something to vote for".8 UKIP aims at giving power back to the people, through regular referenda and the promotion of local democracy. In a typically populist discourse, the language is straightforward and frequently invokes common sense: “UKIP will bring back power to the people with common sense, local policies which will make people’s lives easier. UKIP councilors know who is boss: we only answer to you."9

  • 10 Ibid., p. 11.
  • 11 Ibid., p. 16.
  • 12 Loc. cit.

14Reducing immigration was UKIP's number one priority, impacting other policy areas as the party considers that immigration puts pressure on employment, housing and public services such as education and the NHS. The party advocates a five-year ban on unskilled immigration and the introduction of an Australian-style points based system to select migrants according to their skills. The manifesto also seeks to clarify the confusion over immigration figures which had undermined its credibility, setting a cap of 50,000 highly-skilled work visas per year – which is noticeably different from an overall migration target. However, the party is also very careful to shun accusations of racism, in an attempt to counteract the negative impact of recurrent racist statements within its own ranks: "Immigration is not about race; it is about space. Immigrants are not the problem; it is the current immigration system that is broken".10 Under a UKIP government, new migrants would have to pay into the system for five years before being able to claim benefits, access to NHS services or social housing – the manifesto seems to have dropped the idea of imposing private schooling. The document also takes up the idea of "health tourism" on which Nigel Farage has been vigorously campaigning: "UKIP will put the ‘national’ back into our national health service. (…) The NHS is the National Health Service, not the International Health Service".11 In a typically populist rhetoric, UKIP presents itself as the only party ready to face reality on this matter, contrary to "the other parties (which) have their heads stuck well and truly in the sand".12 In the field of work, UKIP intended to allow British companies to employ British citizens first, in an echo to Gordon Brown's "British jobs for British workers" controversial phrase in 2007 but also to the British National Party's slogan.

  • 13 Ibid., p. 71.
  • 14 Ibid., p. 70.
  • 15 Ibid., p. 67.

15According to UKIP, the UK's incapacity to control its borders is the result of its membership of the EU and the principle of the free movement of people – hence the necessity of "Brexit", which is the very raison d'être of UKIP. The party would therefore hold an in/out referendum as soon as possible, on the basis of the following (and very biased) question: "Do you wish Britain to be a free, independent, sovereign democracy?"13 In a bid for respectability and credibility, the manifesto invokes Winston Churchill's vision of Britain's relationship with Europe: “We have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked, but not combined. We are interested and associated, but not absorbed."14 According to UKIP, Britain's relations with Europe should be limited to a trade partnership, and the country should aim to "foster closer ties with the Anglosphere"15 – a typically eurosceptic argument used to move beyond EU membership and defend a more global vision of Britain's role in the world.

  • 16 R. FORD & M. GOODWIN, Revolt on the Right: Explaining support for the radical right in Britain, Oxo (...)
  • 17 Karine TOURNIER-SOL, "Reworking the Eurosceptic and Conservative Traditions into a Populist Narrati (...)
  • 18 Nigel FARAGE, Speech to the Party Conference, 26 September 2014. Available online at https://www.yo (...)

16The third main element of UKIP's policies is tax cuts. The party wants to abolish the inheritance tax and increase the threshold for paying 40% income tax to £55,000, in a clear appeal to high earners. At the same time, the party pledges to take minimum wage earners out of income tax, thereby reflecting its recent shift of focus towards the working-class, which a recent academic study has identified as the main basis of UKIP support.16 Accordingly, UKIP has been increasingly and openly targeting traditional Labour voters lately in a move to widen its electoral appeal. Yet, the party's origins and ideology also keep it close to the right-wing of the Conservative party.17 UKIP has justified this catch-all dimension by an aspiration to transcend the traditional cleavage between left and right, in a political strategy to woo voters from all persuasions and backgrounds: "This party is not about left and right – this party is about right and wrong".18

  • 19 UKIP, Believe in Britain, UKIP Manifesto, 2015, p. 68.
  • 20 Ibid., p. 65.
  • 21 Ibid., p. 61.

17Another policy which caught the media's attention during the campaign was UKIP's plan to cut overseas aid by more than two-thirds, because "charity should begin at home".19 The party also expressed the intention to close the "wasteful" Department for International Development (DfID) and merge its functions into the Foreign Office. Other Departments were to be abolished as well, such as the Department for Energy and Climate Change (reflecting UKIP's sceptical stance on climate change) and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. By contrast, the party was committed to increasing the defence budget, first to 2% of GDP and then "substantially".20 UKIP also pledged to invest an extra £3bn a year into the English NHS, in a tactical move designed to reassure voters following damaging rumours that the party was intent on privatizing the NHS. As far as education is concerned, UKIP supports the creation of grammar-schools and argued in the manifesto that it would ultimately like to have one in every town. The party also promised to remove tuition fees for students taking approved degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM), provided they work and pay tax in the UK for five years after graduation. Students from the EU were to pay the same fee rates as international students. In terms of political reform, in the manifesto UKIP stuck to its previous pledge to introduce "English vote for English laws" and was in favour of a proportional voting system. Finally, UKIP rejected multiculturalism which "has led to an alarming fragmentation of British society" and aimed to promote Britishness and "a unifying British culture".21

18UKIP's manifesto therefore aimed at demonstrating the party's new credibility on the British political stage as a result of its evolution towards professionalisation. Yet, unfortunately for the party, its choice to focus its campaign on immigration – the issue on which the party enjoys the greatest amount of support compared with other parties – did not pay off, as it actually played a relatively small part in the election campaign which was more centred on the economy. Europe was not an issue either, as David Cameron's referendum pledge seemed to have cleared the air on that matter. UKIP was therefore denied the space it had been used to occupying in recent years and was squeezed out of the campaign, finding it hard even to exist, which helps to account for Nigel Farage's aggressive tactics to capture attention. The party also suffered from the competition with the new insurgent leader of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon, who combined charisma and novelty, attracting media attention to the detriment of the more familiar Nigel Farage and UKIP. As election day approached, the impression was that the UKIP campaign had failed to take off.

The election results: from disappointment to civil war

  • 22 Newsletter, UKIP Campaign Team, 8 May 2015.

19The general election results on 7 May fell short of the party's expectations as UKIP only returned one MP to Westminster – namely Douglas Carswell, a former Conservative MP. Yet, the party performed strongly in terms of vote share, coming third ahead of the Liberal Democrats with 12.6% of the vote, thereby quadrupling its 2010 score. UKIP gathered nearly 4 million votes nationwide, the discrepancy between votes and seats being a result of the first-past-the-post system. Comparatively, the SNP got 4.7% of the votes and gained 56 seats in the House of Commons. UKIP denounced the unfairness of the "broken" electoral system which had "disenfranchised"22 millions of voters, and announced its intention to make electoral reform a new priority.

  • 23 Loc. cit.
  • 24 Louis DORE, Jon STONE, "The map that shows how UKIP took British politics by storm", The Independen (...)

20However disappointing the results turned out to be in terms of seats won, UKIP's performance still remains remarkable: for the first time in its history, the party came second in 120 constituencies across England and Wales -both Tory (76) and Labour (44)- prompting it to declare that it has now "become the voice of opposition to the establishment".23 The party has definitely raised its electoral profile and seems to have replaced the Liberal-Democrats as an alternative to the two major parties. The challenge for UKIP now is to find the means to build on these second places in the perspective of the 2020 general election, by improving its party machine in order to turn its substantial support into actual seats. Evidence of UKIP's progress is also borne out by the fact that the party increased its vote share by more than any other party in 468 constituencies across the country since the previous general election.24

  • 25 R. FORD & M. GOODWIN, Revolt on the Right: Explaining support for the radical right in Britain, Oxo (...)
  • 26 Nigel FARAGE, Speech to the Party Conference, 26 September 2014.

21Although the "UKIP effect" was not as significant as expected, be it during the election campaign or in the number of seats won by the party, its indirect influence is worth examining: which party did UKIP take votes from? For a long time, UKIP was mostly seen as a threat to the Conservatives. The party has worked hard to shed its image as a splinter group of the Conservative party, resulting from the ideological proximity between the two parties but also from the significant number of Tory politicians who have defected to UKIP over the years since its foundation – as was the case for its first two elected MPs in the autumn 2014. In order to distance itself from the Conservative party and widen its electoral support base, UKIP has operated a strategic populist shift which has boosted its potential damaging effect on Labour. Recent academic research by Ford and Goodwin has demonstrated the extent of that threat, showing that a growing proportion of UKIP support comes from traditional Labour backgrounds-the "left-behind" voters.25 Increasing awareness of this new electoral potential has incited UKIP to target the blue-collar vote with measures such as taking minimum wage earners out of the income tax, with Nigel Farage explicitly acknowledging his intention to extend his party's political territory: "We are now parking our tanks on the Labour party’s lawn".26

  • 27 See for example Peter Kellner's analysis in "UKIP's support is changing, and with it the contours o (...)

22As a matter of fact, UKIP supporters should not be regarded as a homogeneous group, but rather as a coalition of disaffected electors from the three main parties, as well as former abstainers, who vote UKIP for different reasons. The catch-all dimension of UKIP was illustrated by the 2014 European elections, in which the party finished first, taking votes from the three major parties to an unprecedented extent. However, several studies27 have shown that the sharpest increase in recent UKIP support has come from non-Tory supporters, vindicating the party's populist strategy. This has been reflected in the recent inroads UKIP has made into Labour heartlands in the North, while early UKIP support was mainly concentrated in the South of England.

  • 28 Nicholas WATT, "David Cameron urges Conservative defectors to UKIP to vote for Tories", The Guardia (...)
  • 29 Andrew GRICE, "Labour figures admit underestimating UKIP threat cost them seats in the general elec (...)

23The general election results tend to indicate that many Conservative supporters who may have considered defecting to UKIP finally cast their votes for David Cameron, for fear of the "coalition of chaos" between Labour and the SNP which the Prime Minister had warned of in the run-up to the election. Cameron had also directly appealed to Conservative defectors to UKIP to "come back home"28 to the Tories or risk handing power to Ed Miliband. The "Vote UKIP, Get Labour" message reiterated by the Conservatives for months may also have persuaded a wider proportion of UKIP supporters to opt for tactical voting in specific areas, as Nigel Farage had himself suggested during the campaign – the Conservative party being the only one to offer a referendum on membership of the European Union apart from UKIP. The result was that the Labour party was the main victim of UKIP in this election: in Labour-held seats where UKIP advanced strongly, the Labour vote dropped by 4%. In comparable circumstances, the Tory vote only fell by 2 %. The insurgent party might even have deprived Labour of a handful of seats, as the UKIP vote was higher than the size of the Tory majority in 9 seats which the Conservative party won from Labour.29

24Moreover, UKIP's disappointment was partially mitigated by the fact that in the local elections taking place on the same day as the general election, it won control of its first council in Thanet, somewhat compensating for Nigel Farage's failure to win a parliamentary seat in the area. Following his defeat, Farage kept his word and announced that he was stepping down as party leader, thereby turning a new page of UKIP's history – only to turn it back three days later, prompting an internal civil war reminiscent of UKIP's past leadership quarrels. Indeed, Farage declared that he had finally withdrawn his resignation following a meeting with the party's national executive committee which had unanimously rejected it, pleading with him to remain as leader.

25This U-turn triggered an internal crisis within the party, exposing inner dissensions about Nigel Farage's leadership and his handling of the election campaign. Senior party figures, among whom the party's economics spokesman Patrick O'Flynn, deplored the "shock and awe" tactics adopted by Nigel Farage during the campaign under the influence of his inner circle of advisers who were taking the party in a hard-right direction comparable to the Tea party movement in the US. They criticised Nigel Farage's aggressive campaign, notably on the issue of foreigners with HIV – a policy which was overtly condemned by Douglas Carswell after the election. Stuart Wheeler, one of the party's biggest donors, publicly called for the UKIP leader to stand down and give way to a less controversial figure. Farage's critics felt that a proper election contest was needed, and concerns about a drift towards "personality cult" were raised, which might lead UKIP to be seen as Nigel Farage's party – which is already the case actually as UKIP is very much a one man band. While dismissing the extent of internal dissent and underlining the "phenomenal" support he enjoyed within the party, Nigel Farage let go of two of his closest aides who had been targeted by his detractors. The UKIP leader quickly resumed his grip on the party, purging it of two senior party figures who had been central in the row, Suzanne Evans and Patrick O'Flynn, who both stood down from their paid roles within UKIP and atoned for the turmoil they had caused.

26This aborted blitzkrieg, which lasted ten days, revealed inner tensions as to the running of the election campaign, the direction of the party and the divisive figure of Farage himself. Those questions are very likely to resurface in the future, all the more so since the party's only MP Douglas Carswell is definitely at odds with Farage over tactics and direction. The evolution of the party towards institutionalisation calls for organisational and ideological changes which are currently under way, but which are also a potential source of tensions within UKIP.

Conclusion and future prospects

27UKIP's disappointing campaign therefore produced disappointing results. The party lost half its representation in the Commons, retaining only one MP – an ex-Tory, meaning that UKIP has still not managed to win a parliamentary seat which did not involve a Tory defector. Nigel Farage struggled to exist during the campaign, as immigration turned out not to be a central issue and he was eclipsed by the new rising SNP leader. He resorted to aggressive tactics and rhetoric in order to capture attention, causing a sense of unease within the party ranks which came to the surface in the aftermath of the election. Beyond the general election, what was at stake in the episode of factional infighting was the referendum campaign to come: dissenters were concerned that Nigel Farage's divisive figure could work against the paramount objective of taking the UK out of the European Union, by alienating moderate voters. This was explicitly articulated by Stuart Wheeler and Douglas Carswell, who called for a less confrontational figure to take the lead.

  • 30 Matt DATHAN, "Nigel Farage: I want to be UKIP leader for the next 20 years", The Independent, 18 Ma (...)
  • 31 Rowena Mason, "Nigel Farage is a 'snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive' man, says campaign chief", (...)

28Those concerns were dismissed by Nigel Farage, who presented his party, and himself, as the natural leaders of the eurosceptic cause and therefore of the No campaign. He is clearly not ready to relinquish his role in the party and take a back seat at the precise moment when the referendum he has dedicated his entire political career to obtaining is about to take place – this is the fight of his life: “I’ve put 20 years of my life into trying to get a referendum and now is not the time to walk away".30 Although Farage asserts that his party is "100% united" in the referendum campaign to come, it seems hardly plausible in the wake of the brief civil war which has just taken place. Nigel Farage's credibility has been severely damaged by this episode of "unresignation", which might leave traces in public opinion as well. His attitude conflicts with his recurrent denunciation of professional politicians clinging to power for their own interests in supposed contrast with his party and himself – the difference is not that clear anymore. In response to this apparent contradiction, Farage's argument that holding a leadership election in the run-up to the referendum would be a "massive, massive mistake" hardly conceals an authoritarianism which is a typical feature of populist parties. In the words of Patrick O'Flynn, it risks making UKIP appear as an "absolute monarchy"31 whereas it purports to embody popular democracy.

29From a wider perspective however, the post-election internal strife should not hide the tremendous progress made by UKIP in this general election, despite the fact that it only translated into a single seat. It shows that contrary to what some detractors had anticipated, the UKIP bubble has not burst yet: the insurgent party is here to stay, not only for the referendum campaign but also most probably beyond that. For the time being, the party's prospects for the 2020 general election look promising. Who will lead the party then is another question, although Nigel Farage has recently declared that he wants to remain leader for 20 more years – a provocative joke which some in his party may have found hard to laugh at.

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Bibliography

FARAGE, Nigel, The Purple Revolution: the Year that Changed Everything, London: Biteback Publishing, 2015.

FORD, Robert & GOODWIN, Matthew, Revolt on the Right: Explaining support for the radical right in Britain, Oxon: Routledge, 2014.

TOURNIER-SOL, Karine, "Reworking the Eurosceptic and Conservative Traditions into a Populist Narrative: UKIP's Winning Formula?", Journal of Common Market Studies, vol. 53, no 1, January 2015, pp. 140-156.

UKIP, Believe in Britain, UKIP Manifesto, 2015.

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Notes

1 Daniel BOFFEY, "'I'm fit as a flea' insists Nigel Farage as poll shows UKIP has lost ground", The Guardian, 28 February 2015.

2 Nigel FARAGE, "UKIP is the only party that offers a real alternative", Daily Express, 31 March 2015.

3 Loc. cit.

4 Rowena MASON, "Nigel Farage: immigration has left Britain almost unrecognisable", The Guardian, 31 March 2015.

5 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vc6YH4-IHME , date accessed 10 April 2015.

6 "Nigel Farage: 2010 UKIP manifesto was 'drivel'", BBC News, 24 January 2014.

7 UKIP, Believe in Britain, UKIP Manifesto, 2015, p. 5.

8 Ibid., p. 3.

9 Ibid., p. 58.

10 Ibid., p. 11.

11 Ibid., p. 16.

12 Loc. cit.

13 Ibid., p. 71.

14 Ibid., p. 70.

15 Ibid., p. 67.

16 R. FORD & M. GOODWIN, Revolt on the Right: Explaining support for the radical right in Britain, Oxon: Routledge, 2014.

17 Karine TOURNIER-SOL, "Reworking the Eurosceptic and Conservative Traditions into a Populist Narrative: UKIP's Winning Formula?", Journal of Common Market Studies, vol. 53, no 1, January 2015, pp. 140-156.

18 Nigel FARAGE, Speech to the Party Conference, 26 September 2014. Available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSHlrjga6uI, accessed 27 September 2014.

19 UKIP, Believe in Britain, UKIP Manifesto, 2015, p. 68.

20 Ibid., p. 65.

21 Ibid., p. 61.

22 Newsletter, UKIP Campaign Team, 8 May 2015.

23 Loc. cit.

24 Louis DORE, Jon STONE, "The map that shows how UKIP took British politics by storm", The Independent, 15 May 2015.

25 R. FORD & M. GOODWIN, Revolt on the Right: Explaining support for the radical right in Britain, Oxon: Routledge, 2014.

26 Nigel FARAGE, Speech to the Party Conference, 26 September 2014.

27 See for example Peter Kellner's analysis in "UKIP's support is changing, and with it the contours of British politics", The Guardian, 17 November 2014.

28 Nicholas WATT, "David Cameron urges Conservative defectors to UKIP to vote for Tories", The Guardian, 6 April 2015.

29 Andrew GRICE, "Labour figures admit underestimating UKIP threat cost them seats in the general election", The Independent, 12 May 2015.

30 Matt DATHAN, "Nigel Farage: I want to be UKIP leader for the next 20 years", The Independent, 18 May 2015.

31 Rowena Mason, "Nigel Farage is a 'snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive' man, says campaign chief", The Guardian, 14 May 2015.

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References

Electronic reference

Karine Tournier-Sol, « UKIP's Performance in the 2015 General Election: A Series of Unfulfilled Expectations », Revue Française de Civilisation Britannique [Online], XX-3 | 2015, Online since 01 December 2015, connection on 23 November 2017. URL : http://rfcb.revues.org/632 ; DOI : 10.4000/rfcb.632

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About the author

Karine Tournier-Sol

Université de Toulon

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Copyright

Licence Creative Commons
Revue française de civilisation britannique est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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