Unlikely coalition set to propel Ukip to election breakthrough

Nigel Farage in Sheffield
Nigel Farage in Sheffield
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IT is a measure of how far the UK Independence Party has come that the biggest danger it faces in Thursday’s elections is failing to meet the expectations it has generated.

Such is its lead in recent polls, that Yorkshire activists are talking about the possibility of securing three of the region’s six seats in the European Parliament.

That would be a significant increase from the single Yorkshireseat secured in 2009, particularly when the voting system in the European elections makes each extra seat progressively harder to win.

Ukip is commonly seen as the home for Conservatives disillusioned over the party’s stance on Europe but deputy leader Paul Nuttall insists his party’s appeal is much broader.

“The one thing that we’re finding all over the country is that we are now picking up a lot of support in Old Labour communities, people who feel that they’ve been left behind by New Labour and the Blair project.

“Obviously Miliband has taken that on and he’s just not connecting with these people.

“These people are looking for a new home, they are looking for something different, they are looking for a party that will represent the working man and the working women of this country, that’s Ukip and that’s why I think we will take a good number of seats.”

Which begs the question whether Ukip can hold together what, on the surface, looks like an unlikely coalition of support in the long term?

Mr Nuttall said: “I don’t see why not. I think people feel left behind by a political class at Westminster, an establishment bubble if you like that doesn’t speak the language of normal people, doesn’t look like normal people, act like normal people and people have no empathy with them.

“Look at all us, we have all had real jobs, we have all lived a real life and people can empathise with us, people can see we are just like them and we are speaking their language and all our policies are simply down to commonsense.”

The authors of the book considered one of the first definitive studies on the rise of Ukip, ‘Revolt on the Right’, argue that while some of the party’s support is a “none of the above” vote, it would be wrong to see it as merely a short-term protest movement.

Matthew Goodwin, one of the book’s authors from Nottingham University, said Ukip had tapped into the concerns of traditional northern Labour voters with concerns over Europe and immigration who feel “left behind”.

“The divisions that underpin Ukip, that fuel (Ukip leader Nigel) Farage, over Europe, immigration and being left behind by a professional middle clase elite, those are going to be with us for 10 or 20 years.

“The reason they have not been mobilised previously, is because we haven’t had someone as articulate and effective as Farage in understanding the strength of those feelings and we also havent had an organisation strong enough or competent enough to bring those divisions back into politics.”

He added: “Ukip is the most working class party since Michael Foot led the Labour Party in the 1980s.”

While Ukip is widely expected to do well in the European elections it will be in the local elections where the results will be telling for the party.

It is fielding its biggest ever tally of council candidates in Yorkshire including contesting every ward in Labour-dominated Doncaster and Rotherham, where it already holds a seat, and contesting most seats in Conservative-run Harrogate. If Ukip is to be taken seriously at next year’s General Election in Yorkshire, it needs to show it can amass enough votes at a local level to get a respectable number of councillors elected.