UKIP’s success rocks UK political landscape

Rising stars: Nigel Farage, flanked by MPs Douglas Carswell (right) and Mark Reckless.

‘Fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists,’ David Cameron called them in 2006. But polls now suggest UKIP will win 25% of the votes at the next election. Has this changed UK politics forever?

For a man representing a party whose members have previously blamed bad weather on gay marriage, Douglas Carswell sounded remarkably mainstream on becoming UKIP’s first elected MP on Friday: ‘If we speak with passion, let it always be tempered by compassion. We must be a party for Britain, and all Britons, first and second generation, as much as any other.’

Carswell had been the Conservative MP


for Clacton in Essex for nine years, but resigned six weeks ago when he switched parties. Last Thursday he kept his seat by winning a by-election. The same night in another by-election in the Heywood and Middleton constituency in the north of England, UKIP nearly won a seat Labour thought safely theirs.

UKIP says its rapid ascent is a gamechanger that will transform UK politics. Polls suggest a huge surge in the party’s support could help it take 25% of the vote in May’s general election. That could mean 125 UKIP MPs. Both Conservative and Labour parties are hugely at risk.

UKIP has grown exponentially since an LSE economist founded it to oppose the UK’s EU membership in 1993. During the Noughties it created a network of local councillors to act as a springboard for national success. Its anti-immigration stance has won increasing support and in May it received the largest share of the vote in EU elections.

It brands itself as the non-conformist alternative to the politics of Westminster, but its loose structure has at times proved embarrassing. One MEP was forced to resign after he criticised UK aid money being sent to ‘bongo bongo land’ and described female activists as sluts. Another equated gay adoption with child abuse.

UKIP’s first seat in parliament is a significant step, but it remains to be seen whether it can change its image from a mildly xenophobic protest party into a genuine long-term challenge to Labour and the Conservatives.

Caught kipping

British politics since 1945 has been a ‘two party system’ dominated by the Conservative and Labour parties, though others have threatened to ‘break the mould’ from time to time. Some say that UKIP is giving the establishment a much-needed jolt. It has forced Britain’s EU membership and immigration to the centre of the debate. The parties can no longer afford to bicker among themselves while voters grow disillusioned.

Others say UKIP has merely benefited from other parties’ complacency and the public’s general disillusion at ‘business as usual’ politics. Carswell’s speech shows that he wants to rebrand the party as inclusive. But to achieve this, UKIP will eventually have to start making the compromises made by every other party, and this will drain their popularity as the anti-Establishment option.

Allah Protects Somaliland.

Lecturer; Abdulkhaliq Mohamed sheikh Osman-Birmingham UK.