A week is a long time in politics, but with less than two years to go until the next general election in the United Kingdom, political commentators are using the latest opinion polls to try to predict the winner of a contest that has barely begun.
Following the daily news cycle in the United Kingdom is a process akin to torture; where pundits pore over every single aspect of the forthcoming season. However politics, much like English football, is an unpredictable game. Commentary on the matter is often outdated by the time it reaches the reader, with the daily fluctuations in opinion polls reflecting nothing more than the daily mood of a public swayed by the latest political scandal or policy.
Current analysis of the 2015 election focuses on weakening the support for the Conservatives and shifting attention to the surprising emergence of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). Many would think the hysteria surrounding their position meant they were set to win a majority in Westminster and cruise to power. UKIP are undoubtedly experiencing a period of unheralded popularity but nonetheless, a distinction must be drawn between what is ‘in’ for this years political fashion and how the electoral map will actually look on 8th May 2015.
This article should not be viewed as a dismissal of UKIP as a political threat to any party. Their electoral success in the May 2013 Council elections demonstrates their ability to cause an upset, but we must bring a sense of realism to the discussion. If UKIP’s current 20 per cent popularity rating is taken as an accurate reading of the public mood, we cannot conflate this with a 20 per cent share of seats in the House of Commons for a number of reasons.
Firstly, cast your minds back to the first televised debate before the 2010 general election. Anyone reading a review of the first debate would have thought Nick Clegg had been proclaimed as the Holy Saviour; sent from above to save us from the bumbling Gordon Brown, or the perceived aloof and distant David Cameron with his unexplainable ‘Big Society’. Whilst he undoubtedly deployed the charm offensive, he was unable to convert this public support into winning seats in the House of Commons. Politics is not a TV reality show where success is measured solely upon the latest sound bites and gossip of contestants. Personality plays its part but come election day, the electorate vote on policy concerns and this is where UKIP will face their greatest struggle in turning their position as flavour of the month, into a victory.
Whilst we should not conflate UKIP with parties as radically-thinking as the British National Party, the English Defence League or even the Nazi Party (NSDAP), these other parties, most notably the NSDAP achieved their success at a time of political and economic upheaval. It is at these difficult times when the parties on the fringes of the political spectrum become more appealing; we turn to them in hope more than expectation for a cure to our woes, often ignoring the more suspect aspects of their manifesto in an act akin to self preservation. These new and controversial parties are often led, as is the case with UKIP, by an eccentric front man with the gravity and persona that define the party. But what history tells us is that this popularity can quickly fade.
Between July and November 1932, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party lost approximately two million votes, a result which suggests that the Nazi party’s peak had passed. Reasons put forward for the decrease in support include the softening of economic hardships and the reduction in protest votes from those angry at the previous government for what they felt was causing the Great Depression. Unfortunately, Hitler was wise to this situation and seized power before the moment escaped him and the rest is history.
It is however always a risk to underestimate the underdog. The Prime Minister’s labelling of UKIP as, ‘fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists’, demonstrates an uneasy response to UKIP’s growth. Prime Minister David Camerons resort to ad hominem to dismantle UKIP’s support has so far only increased their popularity. This is demonstrated in UKIP party membership figures, which according to the New Statesman have risen to 27,517 as of May 2013, at a time when, according to the same source, Conservative party membership under David Cameron has dropped from from 258,000 members to just 177,000 members
However, as outlined within this article, the conditions for a party to make significant political inroads into Westminster are like conditions for a perfect storm. Anything other than the perfect recipe of political and economic turmoil and a population willing to overturn the status quo will be insufficient to turn a general level of support into real political approval in May 2015. Until the streets of London resemble those of Athens, Istanbul and Rio de Janeiro, UKIP’s chances of electoral success will remain a political fantasy.