Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage speaking to conservatives in the United StatesMichael Vadon

UKIP? UKIP who? It’s tempting to be scathing of Farage’s self-styled party’s image as the unstoppable, anti-establishment ‘people’s army’, because this is not the story the figures tell: estimates based on the recent local election defeat (they lost 145 seats, and gained just 1) suggest UKIP’s share of the vote in the General Election could drop to below 3%.

Added to this is the party’s infighting problems; these have been literal in the case of MEPs Stephen Woolfe and Mike Hookem, whose reported punch-up in 2016 left Woolfe hospitalised after collapsing in European Parliament. They’ve also gone through leaders like they’re going out of fashion, with a turnover of 3 since the referendum (one of whom lasted just 18 days). None of this shrieks of an unstoppable ‘people’s army’, more a disorganised, confused mess.

It’s almost as if UKIP have created the wave then been a little late in catching it themselves. Their most recent manifesto for the local elections is interesting, if not just for Paul Nuttall’s strained smile that reeks of Mum’s-new-boyfriend-desperation to bond with the kids, but also for its pledge to put ‘local people first’. At the same time, their general election manifesto proposes banning the burqa, for ‘security issues’ according to Nuttall, in a true display of their identity problem. Straddling the gap between the ultra-right wing and being a party of local issues worked when the party had a clear goal, but it made the mistake of tracing all the country’s problems back to the EU. Now that problem’s solved, they are floundering, lost at political sea.

“The party has replaced hatred of the EU with explicit Islamophobia”

But that’s because UKIP was never really a political party. An outsider at best, they had little political chance, resting all their hopes on their former leader, that man-of-the-people, pint-on-me, millionaire ex-broker Nigel Farage. It was never going to last. And now that the party has replaced hatred of the EU with explicit Islamophobia, their insistence that they aren't racist is increasingly wearing thin.

The conversation they’ve started, though, might have far more longevity. By distancing themselves from the BNP and insisting their policies were not targeting ethnic groups or religions, they cleverly created a kind of xenophobia-light, a seemingly well reasoned and legitimate reason to be worried. Once dislike of the establishment, bureaucracy and ‘red tape’ was added in, the formula was complete. UKIP’s ideology has helped set, if not dominated, the agenda of the political conversation for years now, and it’s here to stay.

Current UKIP leader Paul NuttallEuro Realist Newsletter

Just look at how the other parties have been forced to respond: May’s ‘hard Brexit’ is a (seemingly successful) attempt to win back UKIP voters and display how bloody difficult she can be; Corbyn’s lack of a clear soundbite to sum up his position has cost his party core supporters from all socioeconomic backgrounds; and the Lib-Dems are desperately branding themselves the anti-Brexit party. It’s clear that Brexit, and the injection of political activism administered by UKIP, has shaped UK politics, and it seems that one eye must always be kept on UKIP when predicting outcomes like that of the general election. Because UKIP have achieved a difficult feat in the context of two-party politics; Stephen Bush has compared UKIP to a ‘gateway drug’ that has weaned die-hard Labour supporters from their loyalties and left them, floating-voter style, ready for something new. With this is mind, it is unsurprising that May’s ‘strong and stable’ message is hitting home. This is perhaps best symbolised by the video of an enraged Brexiteer confronting Tim Farron in Oxfordshire. “I’ve always voted Labour”, he shouted as he walked away, “but I’ll be voting for Theresa May!”

UKIP are the first party since Blair’s New Labour who have found a way to excite and aggravate the minds of ordinary people, particularly in the old industrial towns and cities, those ‘left behind’ areas. The remarkable EU referendum turnout of 72.2% appears even more remarkable when compared to the general election of 2015, which was the highest turnout in 18 years, at 66.1%. The left, the liberals, the moderates and anyone else who tried to recapture these minds were flogging a dead horse, because the idea of ‘taking back control’, which originated with UKIP, is a strong, simple message drawing on patriotism and discontent.

So UKIP’s political career is one of patience, of good timing, and of success in what most pressure groups can only dream of: putting their issue in the forefront of nearly all political discourse, and effecting real change. They may be victims of their own success but they have defined this election, casting a shadow over generations to come

Sponsored links