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The rise, fall and potential resurgence of UKIP

By Philip McCue, Public Affairs Intern

In November 2014, the rise of UKIP seemed unstoppable. The euphoria of victory in the European Parliament elections, an ever-growing membership and two by-election victories was the cause of ever increasing paranoia for the Westminster establishment. The party which David Cameron had referred to as a bunch ‘fruitcakes and loonies’ had amassed a purple army that was sweeping the country. Just under two years later, the world was shocked as the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union and a fringe party, which at its peak were represented by just two MPs, could justifiably boast that they had achieved the greatest success of any modern political party.

Fast forward a year and UKIP appear dead in the water. They’ve lost their two MPs, every single council seat they were defending in the most recent local elections and have held three separate leadership elections, with another one currently in progress. The party must now choose from two very distinct paths: Farage-esque economic libertarianism in the form of Bill Etheridge or a hard right, Islam focused approach in the form of Anne Marie Waters or John Rees-Evans.

Some of the highlights from the campaign so far include underdog John Rees-Evans’ policy to pay Britons with dual nationality £9,000 and health insurance to return home and Bill Etheridge describing Waters as the ‘Joan of Arc’ of neo-fascists. Rees-Evans undoubtedly also deserves an award for the least reassuring line ever uttered by a politician when he clarified “It’s not going to be draconian. It’s not going to be fascist. I’m not interested in using eugenics or any evil things like that”.

Despite the multitude of problems that UKIP face, those at the very top of the party still encapsulate a surprising degree of optimism for one very simple reason; like ‘remainers’, they believe Theresa May’s Brexit deal will fall flat on its face…

UKIP could well perform an unlikely resurgence by utilising the same tactics that enabled their rise in the first place. By tempting those on the Thatcherite fringe of the Conservatives and Eurosceptic Labour voters who feel let down by both Government and Opposition approaches to Brexit, UKIP would increase their membership, their financial resources and their press coverage. The challenge UKIP face is not to inspire the public, but to demonstrate to wavering voters that, despite their flaws, they will provide a firmer voice on Brexit than either of the two main parties.

UKIP’s unlikely comeback could take two forms. They could attract widespread support from Conservative and Labour voters, allowing them to put considerable pressure on the Government with regards to shaping the Brexit deal but finding it very difficult to gain parliamentary seats due to the absence of concentrated support. Alternatively, and probably most likely, the election of a far-right leader will see them perform well in parts of the North where the BNP previously thrived, but see diminishing support across the country as a whole. Though under the latter option they would fail to replicate their remarkable 2015 vote share, they would accumulate seats, giving a voice in parliament to the hard right. The significance of this cannot be understated. Their two previous MPs, Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless, were often in dispute with their leader and were seen by much of the membership as ‘Tories in disguise.’ A populist, hard-right voice in parliament would completely change the dynamic of British politics and could pave the way for further growth for the cause in the future.

It would be nonsensical to claim that UKIP can come out of the shadows to win an election, but, under a controversial new leader, they could amass significant regional support as disenfranchisement with the establishment continues to grow. Their real scope for change however, is not in the form of parliamentary power, but instead in positioning themselves as a thorn in Theresa May’s side and pressuring her into making previously unforeseeable decisions in the same way that they forced David Cameron into a referendum he previously had no intention of fighting.

For UKIP to achieve this, they must be bold, contentious and ruthlessly unapologetic and, judging by the campaigns run by their leadership candidates, they’re ready to be.

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