United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). UKIP have long been a presence in British politics, but have recently begun to make much more serious inroads.
The party was originally founded in 1993 by anti-Maastricht Treaty activists headed by the LSE Economist Alan Sked. The party was initially a single issue party with one desire: to get the UK out of the EU. This remains a primary objective for the party to this day.
The party’s previous success was almost entirely restricted to European elections. In their recent book Revolt on the Right British political scientists Rob Ford and Matthew Goodwin compare UKIP to a hibernating bear that would emerge from its cave once every five years, scare everybody and then go back to sleep.
The party provided an opportunity to protest vote against the political class, immigration, the European Union and crime. The party benefitted in European elections from the proportional electoral system, unlike the FPTP system used elsewhere in Britain, and from occasional good luck. The party’s 2004 campaign was boosted by the candidacy of former television presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk which allowed it to beat the Lib Dems into fourth.
The party was widely expected to do much more poorly in the 2009 election but it came shortly after the start of the UK expenses scandal, a major crisis in the perceived legitimacy of the UK political class.
The party, until recently, did not make much of a mark on national politics, winning 3.2% of the vote in 2010, with many voters using it as a vehicle for a protest vote at European elections.
Since 2010 the party has begun to mobilise more effectively domestically, building a strong campaigning infrastructure, and expanding the party’s issues into new areas, particularly immigration and populist outrage against the political class.
UKIP has won impressive results in by-elections (though it has failed to win any) and in local elections since 2010. Its base is predominantly make up of ‘left behind’ elderly, working class, low education white male English voters. These voters are deeply pessimistic about the modern world and deeply disenchanted with established political elites. For these voters the EU has come to represent everything they disdain about the modern world: an out of touch political elite in a foreign country who seem to be unaccountable, and a gateway for open migration into the UK.
The party is predominantly a right-wing populist party, and increasingly takes on the features of such parties, including strong opposition to immigration, populist discourse against the political elite, opposition to ‘political correctness’, to theories of man-made climate change and less clear economic policies.
The party has repeatedly been criticised for the outspoken comments of its MEPs, councillors and candidates for election, including that homosexuality caused recent flooding, that women who don’t clean behind the fridge are ‘sluts’ or saying that black stand-up comedian Lenny Henry should emigrate to “a black country”.
Farage himself has received criticism for some of his own comments, including saying that he would feel uncomfortable if Romanians moved in next door to him, or saying that he felt uncomfortable on a train because people weren’t speaking in English.
Due to low turnout, the fact that this is its key issue, and the motivation of its activists, UKIP is widely expected to win the European elections.
UKIP is extremely Eurosceptic and wants the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union as soon as possible.
UKIP is a member of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy, a group widely perceived as having been created to help fund and support UKIP. Farage is the co-leader of the group.
UKIP vote with the group 52.6% of the time, and have a notorious record for not participating in votes in the parliament. UKIP defends this on the basis that they are elected to the Parliament to campaign against the EU not to participate.