I’ve already articulated my view that the ‘successes’ of UKIP have been overstated by the press. Perhaps this is out of boredom with the mediocrity of conventional politics and not out of a closeted sympathy with right-wing populism. Time will tell, I suppose.
The results of new research support my claim. It seems that the UK Independence Party will struggle come election time to capitalise on the small gains it has achieved. I say ‘small gains’ because it still controls no councils and none of its candidates have won a seat in Parliament. Many of you will be shocked to read this because Mark Reckless and Douglas Carswell now represent UKIP in Parliament. But it’s still the case because these men defected. The rank and file of UKIP remains outside Westminster and in Brussels.
You might wonder why we shouldn’t take Reckless and Carswell seriously? Well, it’s a lot easier for establishment candidates to jump ship than for outsiders to break into the mainstream. It wasn’t so long ago that Roger Helmer lost his bid for a seat in the House of Commons. The truth is that they need more defectors. As my fellow blogger Josh Catto put it on Facebook:
I think of all post-war defections that led to by-elections, only Bruce Douglas-Mann lost his seat. But his case is instructive. He defected from the SDP to Labour, called a by-election for 1982 in Mitcham and Morden (my own constituency), and lost to the Tories in the middle of the Falklands. Otherwise, it is a pretty fail safe strategy.
So Carswell and Reckless are called opportunistic by their opponents for doing it. But that's the job of politicians not in your party - to oppose what you do. They would get far more flack if they hadn't stood down for re-election. But they're also looking at the SDP example. Douglas-Mann probably would have won if it hadn't been during the Falklands. And standing down for re-election allows them to have a bit more of a base for the general election. Certainly it gives them time to prepare and re-jig their database and phone banks etc.
But already Ashcroft polling shows Reckless would probably just miss out on keeping Rochester. Carswell will probably hang on to Clacton. Maybe Farage in Thanet, and I can see them picking up Grimsby from Labour. Perhaps Rotherham as well. I will also be very interested to see if Carswell takes over after 2015. If so, expect to see him target Lib Dem libertarians like Laws and Browne.
The feat of securing a seat for an outsider candidate was achieved in 2010 when Caroline Lucas won Brighton for the Green Party. The Greens are growing rapidly, procuring many supporters from the long-suffering ranks of the Labour Party. The EU elections demonstrated that there is serious disaffection out there. The Conservatives and Lib Dems lost 10% between themselves, while the BNP lost 7% of its vote. UKIP boosted its vote by 10%, while the Greens came in at 8%. What we need is left-wing populism.