Cognizant of the UK Independence Party’s likely strong performance in the upcoming European Parliamentary elections, some reputable publications have joined the long-established monitors such as UKIP Watch in paying closer attention to the daily goings-on within the resurgent party. Displaying great originality, The Telegraph calls their version…UKIP Watch too. So no possibility of confusion there, then.
To their credit though, The Telegraph’s UKIP Watch redeems itself with some insightful analysis on Day 1, effectively countering the oft-repeated myth that UKIP’s support is comprised almost exclusively of disaffected “grumpy” Tories:
Why is the myth of Ukip as an army of angry, middle-class suburbanites who are obsessed by Europe and having a referendum so widespread and persistent, when the reality is so different? Most likely because of the difference between Ukip’s activists and their voters.
Committed activists and politicians, the kind of Ukipper the media are most likely to encounter, very often are middle-class, Southern and suburban former Tories (particularly the Ukippers you are likely to stumble across in the Westminster village, where most journalists congregate). Add to this the continual fascination in the media with Conservative splits over Europe and it is easy to see how the “Ukip = angry Tories + Euroscepticism” formula has taken hold.
A very good point. Why would UKIP be immune from the phenomena that affects the main three parties, namely that their most strident activists little represent their average voter? It is good to hear this point addressed in the media, and it would be even more encouraging to see the stories about the kooks and crazies in UKIP’s midst covered in the same way – namely that those on the cutting edge, whether for good or bad reasons, tend not to represent the whole.
The column’s authors, Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin, also make clear that the ‘typical’ UKIP voter is nothing like the cartoonish stereotype of a stuffy, old-fashioned Conservative, and that the retired colonel or Women’s Institute stalwart image is misplaced:
If Spitting Image were still around they would most likely portray the average Ukipper as a ruddy faced, middle-class, middle-aged golf club bore, who lived in a suburban semi-detached house in the Home Counties, wore lots of tweed and bored his neighbours to death by droning on about the evil Eurocrats in Brussels. But this stereotype could scarcely be further from the truth.
Ukip’s supporters look more like Old Labour than True Blue Tories. Ukip’s supporters tend to be blue-collar, older, struggling economically, and often live in poorer, urban areas, with big pools of support in the Labour heartlands of the North. Middle-class suburbanites do not dominate Ukip. They shy away from it.
In fact, Ukip are Britain’s most working-class party. Blue-collar workers are heavily over-represented. Middle-class professionals are scarce. Such voters often express as much hostility to the Conservative party as they do to Labour. This news should not be surprising. Earlier research on Goldsmith’s Referendum Party in the mid-1990s found that they too came from across the spectrum. But despite this research the “disaffected Tory thesis” has become entrenched in the Westminster village, and now dominates misguided coverage of the party.
This, if anything, is the area on which UKIP will need to focus the most if they are to make the perilous transition from successful protest party to a real general election player capable of winning seats in the House of Commons – the fact that the spot in their party reserved for middle-class professionals is currently Tumbleweed Central. These higher-information voters are key to credibility, and they are also primarily the movers and shakers who keep the British economy ticking over. Not having these people in your camp in any significant numbers is a cause for concern, and one that will certainly need to be addressed after the upcoming European elections.
So far, however, UKIP seems to be showing no signs of wilting under the increased scrutiny – indeed, their affable leader Nigel Farage MEP seems to have recovered some of the form which deserted him last week, going so far as to record this spoof weather forecast segment for the BBC’s Sunday Politics show:
Perhaps this further helps to explain the reason for UKIP’s continued popularity and appeal – which of the other party leaders, emerging from a week of very difficult and in some cases embarrassing press coverage, would be so relaxed and willing to poke fun at themselves in so self-deprecating a manner? There is something inherently appealing about a politician who is willing to speak
Nigel Farage is confident, and as more and more of the media is coming to realise, his confidence may be well placed.