How many times will we have to hear Euro-fantasists (sorry, I mean Eurosceptics) scream the same old screams at the slightest instance of a rise in UKIP polling figures. Apparently, as Lib Dems, we are supposed to be quaking in our boots due to an iminent UKIP rise to power. I do not want to veer into an area of political complacency, and of course I know UKIP have polled their highest in the latest Survation poll since 2009, but we need to consider the circumstances in which we always see these small explosions of UKIP popularity. The obvious example is during the European Elections, a time when UKIP are given a great amount of airtime to spell out their Eurosceptic ideals to the nation. In this period they quite clearly have a great record of playing on the fears and worries of voters who are not necessarily “Eurosceptic” but merely looking for an outlet of their anger towards the state of our nation. Other than during the European Elections, UKIP (as well as many of the “other” parties) have managed to capitalise on times of public anger towards the political mainstream. The expenses scandal provided the perfect setting for Farage and his party to really set the scene with a narrative of an “us against them” kind of scenario. It worked well, as the Harris poll in June 2009 showed with UKIP Westminster Voting Intention figures hitting an all time high of 10%.
However, the big struggle that has always been present and clear for UKIP is the fact they have always struggled to maintain support. We talk about the great struggle our party faces but we only need to look to UKIP who, admittedly very impressively, poll only behind the Conservatives in the European Elections but still become banded in the single figure polling figures attributed to the “other” parties in Westminster polls, just days after the elections. The problem has been outlined before you. UKIP only “rise” in times when there is a clear and outspoken amount of disadain for the political mainstream (expenses scandal) or in a time when UKIP’s favourite topic (the EU) is put before the public for scrutiny. With cynics like myself already in doubt of such a “rise” I feel I do not even need to go into the fact that the polls showing such positive figures for UKIP do so using questionable methods of producing figures for their recent political surveys.
Now I must insist this is not a case of complacent behaviour or a kind of Lib Dem fantasist diatribe as I am well aware of the issues a genuine UKIP rise would raise. The big problem for our party is that a UKIP rise to the so called “mainstream” of British politics (that I myself am evidently clear of accepting as a reality) is that for a party like the Liberal Democrats, General Elections are not always just about winning the battle of policies and presenting the best case for Governance, but also a case of trying to gain fair airtime amongst the Labour and Conservative dominated electoral landscape. If UKIP were in a position to seriously attempt occupying parts of this landscape they may well gain a lot of coverage in the media, thus making it harder for our party to have the say they often miss out on. God knows what questions this would raise for the 2015 Leaders Debates! We know Farage was vehemontly against the UKIP exclusion from the debates in 2010 so it would be hard to shut him out of such a debate this time around.
Now, for the party, the aforementioned problems with gaining equal coverage of the campaign is always going to be an issue but that appears to be the only potential stumbling block at this stage. Although the prospect of UKIP lying neck and neck with the party in terms of polling figures is a scary one, it would not necessarily be the worst thing in the world electorally. What is clear is that when the UKIP vote rises, ours stays strong. It is in fact the Tories who lose out to UKIP in the biggest way. Their party has a similar effect on the Tories in the way that we do (or sadly, did) have on the Labour party when looking back in time. If such a UKIP rise to prominence became a reality the great interest would not be, for us, the potential seats we may lose to UKIP or seats that UKIP may gain nationwide, but the Tory-Lib Dem marginals which may prove crucial for us in 2015. We risk losing votes to Labour, but would the concession of votes be quite as heavy as that of Tory votes to UKIP? This is completely hypothetical at this point, but what I have outlined would at least be consistent with history. I hope we are not presented with such a situation in 2015, but the electorate may still be looking for something new, especially in a time where many feel they are still getting a rough deal with the European Union supposedly eroding away British sovereignty (I’ll leave that one to you guys!). Polls are important, but have yet to be on UKIP’s side when it mattered. Time will tell but I shall not be holding my breath.