On May 7th 2015, the UK lost a general election. The debates finished, the people voted, the ballots were counted; and by morning of the next day, David Cameron walked into 10 Downing Street having secured a mere 36.9% of the overall vote. As a result of our incredibly unrepresentative ‘first past the post’ voting system, The Conservative Party was able to form a majority government with a minority of the popular vote. Labour returned to lead the opposition while the UK Independence Party (UKIP), received nearly four million votes and a single seat in parliament.
Clearly, our antiquated and extremely unrepresentative voting system needs to change, however regardless of obtaining a mere single commons seat, UKIP walked away from that election with the ability to call itself the third most popular political party in the United Kingdom. Despite the scandals, despite the character assassination attempts and despite its near constant vilification by the media, UKIP (together with the Scottish Nationalists) managed to break the tribal mould of UK politics. That in itself is an impressive feat, and this is coming from someone who probably disagrees with UKIP on 95% of its policies.
Some see the rise of UKIP as a menace, as an unruly explosion of xenophobia and as a far right movement with the ability to make certain people proud of their darkest personal traits. Others see the party as something of a populist revival. A patriotic, anti-establishment, peoples army mobilizing to end mass migration and take Britain out of the European Union. Just to be clear, I don’t fall in either of those camps. While I might disagree with them on policy, I’m not prepared to stoop down to the level of shouting “its gross, its racist” at everyone with a different political opinion. Frankly, British politics could use a lot less pointless ad hominems and more well reasoned debate. Regardless, there is a good reason why every single sensible person, both on the left and the right, should celebrate the rise of UKIP; and to understand why, we need to look at a different election which took place in December of last year.
I’m talking about the Oldham West and Royton by-election, which resulted in a straight fight between the UKIP candidate John Bickley and Labour’s Jim McMahon. UKIP came second here in May’s general election, and most of the polling available to us suggested that they had a real chance of taking a formerly safe Labour seat  . When the results were announced, it wasn’t even close. Labour not only won, but also increased its majority from May, while UKIP came a very distant second, having secured 6,487 votes to Labour’s 17,209.
Look back to the 2001 general election however, and we see something very interesting. UKIP wasn’t running a candidate in Oldham back then, but the British National Party (BNP) was; and managed to get a grand total of 6,552 votes. That is, amazingly enough, almost the exact same number of votes that UKIP got there in last years by-election. Maybe this is just a crazy coincidence, but the numbers do suggest that UKIP succeeded in picking up the vast majority of former BNP voters in Oldham West and Royton, and that mirrors exactly what we’ve been seeing throughout the rest of the country.
UKIP’s rise in electoral performance has directly coincided with the BNPs demise, and while correlation does not always equal causation, in this case it almost certainly does. Not only did a BNP spokesman directly blame UKIP for his own parties drop in support , but there’s also little denying that the two are competing for the same voter demographic – The patriotic, anti-immigration, working class man or woman who’s become completely disengaged from conventional politics. And say what you will about UKIP, its leader or its supporters, but in comparison, the BNP makes them all look like a Refugees Welcome protest marching with defiance through Trafalgar Square.
After all, we are talking about a party which, until 2009, banned non-white members from joining its ranks (and only changed its policy after being threatened with legal action). We’re talking about a party whose former leader not only denied the existence of the holocaust , but also decided to share a platform with David Duke, the former leader of the Ku Klux Klan . Say what you will about Nigel Farage, but when the far-right French Front National offered a formal alliance, it was rejected due to what Farage described as the party’s “anti-semitism and general prejudice”.
I’m not for a second trying to deny the fact that there are some thoroughly unpleasant characters within the UKIP ranks, but that is precisely my point. There is a certain, fortunately small, part of British society which is openly xenophobic and susceptible to ideologies such as white nationalism. A group of people who are stuck in a bigoted mentality and who might actually become dangerous if handed a significant degree of political power. How fortunate is it then, that all these people have seemingly switched to supporting a party whose policies do not represent their draconian and bigoted views. In a sense, UKIP has essentially become a vacuum cleaner; hoovering up Britain’s neo-fascists and putting them somewhere where they can’t do any real damage.
In a recent appearance on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Farage (when discussing the EU Referendum) was asked whether he was prepared to share a platform with The English Defense League or Britain First (a BNP offshoot). His response was a very clear “no” , and yet the likes of Britain First still pretend to be a strong ally of both him and his party; going as far as to advertise his TV appearances on their Facebook page. At this point, the best we can all do is leave the crazy people alone and let them revel in their own delusions.