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.