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A polite alternative to the BNP?

The January 2011 Oldham by-election confirmed the UK Independence Party (UKIP) as the fourth largest party in British politics, ahead of the British National Party (BNP).

With local elections looming, Drs Rob Ford, David Cutts and I have produced evidence that UKIP is well positioned to become a successful radical right party and a significant vehicle for Islamophobia.

Our research shows that Euroscepticism is not the whole story where UKIP is concerned. There’s no doubt the party’s position on Europe is a big factor, but their supporters are increasingly concerned with attitudes more typically associated with the BNP. Like far-right voters, those who vote UKIP are dissatisfied with the mainstream parties and hostile toward immigration.

The research is the first to analyse and understand the attitudes and motives of UKIP supporters. At the last General Election, UKIP called for an immediate halt on immigration, the ending of multicultural policies and a partial ban on the niqab and burka. Leader Nigel Farage has since given a ‘cautious welcome’ to the wishes of the French National Front (one of the most successful radical right parties in Europe) to model itself on UKIP.

Our analysis shows while UKIP does mop up ‘defectors’ from the Tories — upper and middle-class voters who largely follow UKIP to lodge their feelings on Europe at European Parliament elections — its appeal in domestic elections is rather different.

In by-elections like Oldham East, UKIP tends to do best amongst disaffected working-class voters, who find UKIP’s populist attacks on immigrants, Muslims and the political establishment attractive.

UKIP appeals to the same kind of voters as the BNP, but may be able to recruit a broader and more sustainable vote base, with UKIP voters outnumbering BNP voters three to one. While many voters agree with the BNP’s political messages, they are turned off by its violent and fascist reputation.

The research also shows that UKIP has succeeded in securing the votes of women, who have traditionally rejected the BNP due to its perceived extremism.

Our research backs up assertions that UKIP – unlike the BNP – are thought of as a legitimate force in British politics, with access to mainstream media and political elites. Voters who shun the BNP are willing to listen to the same messages when they come from UKIP. UKIP may, therefore, function as a ‘polite alternative’ for voters worried about immigration and Islam, but repelled by the BNP’s public image.

Until now, getting to grips with UKIP has been extremely difficult due to an absence of any real systematic research. This is why the party remains something of a puzzle to many.

Matthew Goodwin

Published inBritish PoliticsUKIP


  1. Emily Emily

    I’ve been looking at UKIP recently and I think I agree with what you’ve said. When you see clips of Nigel Farage debating on question time – and especially in the EU parliament!! – it’s easy to understand why he attracts new voters. He’s charismatic, knows what he’s talking about (or at least sounds like he knows what he’s talking about) and UKIP don’t have the same bad stigma attatched to them like the BNP have. If there was a BNP and tory sandwich, UKIP would be the meat paste in the middle.

  2. Matt Matt

    Dr Goodwin this is a bit of a scandalously one-sided view of UKIP.

    Their anti-immigration stance stems from their anti-EU stance. The two are intimately connected. UKIP are not anti-immigrational predominantly for the same reasons that the BNP are. They are anti-immigration because of the lack of control over non-skilled workers coming from Eastern Europe, and not being able to have any control over who can come and work from countries within the common market.

    UKIP might occasionally spout some stuff about how wearing the burka is not a very “British” thing to do etc. etc. but they are not anti-immigration for the same reasons the BNP is. The BNP produce the age old racist arguments about ‘taking our women’, ‘corrupting our sons and daughters’, ‘send ’em back’ sort of stuff.

    They do not occupy the same ground. They are not employing similar tactics.

    At its heart the BNP is the archetypal fascist party – nationalist politically, socialist economically. UKIP is a patriotic party, quite different from blind nationalism. It is not isolationist, it is not believing that we are somehow bestowed with greater gifts or worth because we’re British. It is vehemently anti-socialist and economically libertarian.

    You seem to rather patronisingly assert that the working class are blinded by whoever shouts the anti-immigration message loudest.

    Working class people aren’t stupid. They can distinguish between the socialist BNP, and neo-Thatcherite UKIP. Which is why, I imagine, that the South are more likely to vote UKIP, whilst the North is more likely to see the BNP take votes (as a generalisation).

  3. Treats Treats

    “those who vote UKIP are dissatisfied with the mainstream parties and hostile toward immigration.”

    When you look at voters in general that’s a big market to go at.

  4. Katerina Katerina

    Seems that the UKIP tries to take an advantage due to a lack of a ‘real voice of opposition in British politics’ (as Nigel Farage once said).. However, I wonder whether the UKIP agenda can be practically implemented. For oppositions it is natural to look forward a victory. Yet, sometimes they do not know what to do with this victory then.

  5. Dave Dave

    UKIP’s rather fuddy-duddy image must work against them? I wonder how deep their penetration of the white, working class can go so long as they have Nigel Farage in charge, regardless of how ‘attractive’ their message might be. He looks like the sort of man you might see in a First Class waiting room* sporting a pair of yellow chinos. Such toff like buffoonery isn’t popular on council estates.

    *I have never been in a first class waiting room.

  6. Rob Ford Rob Ford

    I don’t think there is a contradiction, Dan. Our research shows that UKIP gains support from campaigning on issues such as immigration while also winning support on their traditional core issue of the EU. This is also what the Leicester research shows. We also agree that UKIP wins important support at European Parliament elections from Conservative defectors – indeed, it is that perception of legitimacy which makes them more effective as a party than the BNP.

    But it is nonetheless true that UKIP supporters are more like BNP supporters in their attitudes towards immigrants and minorities, and in their views on other social issues, than supporters of any other party. UKIP supporters, particularly those backing the party in domestic elections, seem to be poised half way between the BNP and the Conservatives. They could therefore win support from either, depending on their approach. Their attacks on the political elite, and their policy proposals on immigration (stop it) and the burqua (ban it) are likely to appeal to BNP leaning voters though. “Matt” may be quite correct that the reason for their policy positions is quite different to the BNP’s, but I doubt that matters much to the average voter.

    • Rob, would you like to cite a reference for any UKIP ‘ban the burqua’ policy?

      There is a devious mis-description of a general policy on face coverings (including motorcycle helmets etc) in places where there may be a security issue.

      UKIP GE2010 policy on immigration was ‘freeze it’ *for settlement* while the whole situation – including local servcies etc has been properly addressed. Interestingly, you may have noticed that the EU ‘open borders’ policy is unravelling as I type.

      So both your ‘stop it’ and ‘ban it’ claims are bogus…

  7. UKIP is the middle class anti-immigrant anti-EU party and the BNP is the working class anti-immigrant and anti-EU party.

  8. It is very simple.

    UKIP – elderly, middle class, crusty and terrified of being accused of being racists

    BNP- younger, working class and prepared to be accused of being racists to make their point.

  9. Chris Chris

    1. Why is it so radical to support restrictions on immigration?
    2. UKIP voters aren’t racist! UKIP is in fact very similar to other Eurosceptic parties across the continent.

  10. The flaw in this research is its selectivity. I know many Labour supporters who are concerned about the same issues you say UKIP voters are. By saying there is an overlap of concern between UKIP & BNP you imply a similarity between the groups, without demonstrating that in their areas of concern either of these groups is in fact significantly different from the rest of the British voting population.

    Your conclusion may of course be right, but you have failed to prove it.

    A pretty shoddy piece of research overall.

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