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Blazej Choro1

The new third party in a two-party system? Circumstances and implications of


UKIP success in 2014 European Parliament elections.
Abstract:
For a growing group of voters the UKIP party ceases to be a second choice,
and it becomes a main party. But contrary to popular belief its electoral success is
only partly due to its eurosceptic program. Its growing support is rather the result of
disappointment in policies of the main parties and a sense of alienation of a growing
social group, failing to find its way in a liberal, multicultural society. Note, however,
that the UK electoral system rewards parties that have geographically concentrated
support, yet in case of UKIP it is distributed fairly evenly. For this reason, even a
significant popular support will translate only in a small degree into the seats in the
House of Commons. UKIP electoral successes has forced the major political parties to
modify their policies, which manifested mainly in radicalization of their programs in
the area of immigration and asylum policy, as well as their attitude towards the UK's
membership in the European Union.
Keywords: United Kingdom Independence Party, UKIP, British Politics,
European Elections 2014
The result of United Kingdom Indepenedence Party (UKIP) in the European
Parliament elections in 2014 was a part of a "eurosceptic earthquake" (Wintour, Watt,
2014), which struck a number of European Union countries. UKIP victory by
obtaining 27.5% of the votes and winning one third of the UKs 73 seats, was
undoubtedly a historic event. It was the first nationwide election won by a party
without a single representative in the House of Commons. The result of the elections
to the European Parliament puts forward at least two fundamental questions - what
was the base of the success of UKIP and how will this victory translate to the House
of Commons elections. This article is a voice in the discussion on both these
questions.
1 Assistant Professor at European Studies Chair, Institute of Political Science,
University of Opole, bchoros@uni.opole.pl

1 Circumstances of UKIP electoral success.


Firstly, it should be noted that the good result of UKIP in the European
Parliament elections was a big surprise. This party has appointed candidates in the
European elections since 1994. In the 1999 elections it secured 7% of the votes and
introduced 3 MPs to EP - including the current leader of UKIP, Nigel Farrage. In the
election of 2004 UKIP multiplied its possessions, earning the same amount of seats as
the Liberal Democrats (12), but surpassing that party in terms of the number of gained
votes - 16.1% versus 14.9% gained by Lib Dems. In the election of 2009 UKIP,
winning 16.5% of the votes, placed ahead, in this respect, of the Labour Party, and
finished second in the election gaining the same number of seats as them - 13.
At the same time of their success in the European elections, the party noted
only marginal results in the elections to the House of Commons - 0.3% of the votes in
1997, 1.5% in 2001, 2.2% in the year 2005 and 3.1% in 2010. Therefore the election
results at European level did not translate in any way to the national level.
Base of UKIP support.
Most UKIP voters, derive traditionally from among voters of the Conservative
Party (Kellner, 2014b), however, as indicated by the results of the British Election
Study (Goodwin, Milazzo, 2014), 22% of the 2010 voters of the party in 2010 voted
for Labour or Liberal Democrats. The flow of 13% of voters from pro-European Lib
Dems to UKIP clearly indicates that, at least for some voters, UKIP is a party of
protest.
Simultaneously, the research conducted by Ford and Goodwin (2014) suggests
that the electorate of UKIP significantly differs from the political mainstream of the
major parties consisting of well-educated voters finding their way in a liberal
economy and an ethnically and culturally diverse society. UKIP voters are less
educated, often older, less well-paid and perceiving multicultural society as something
alien and unnatural (Ford, Goodwin 2014: 11). In addition to a strong aversion to the
European Union, a negative attitude towards immigration and negative perception of
the economic policies, UKIP voters are characterized by deep pessimism and
disappointment with policies and proposals formulated by the main parties (Kellner,
2014).

UKIPs position, therefore, stems largely from the fact that mainstream parties
did not notice and do not xploit growing new socio-economic conflict in British
society.
2 Will UKIP "break the mould" and become the new third party?
For many years the split between the support for UKIP in the European
Parliament elections and the elections to the House of Commons confirmed the thesis
of UKIP as a one-issue protest party, with votes of the Conservatives disappointed in
the actions of their own party. According to the research of the British Election Study,
only a quarter of UKIP voters from the European elections in 2009 declared voting on
this party in the elections to the House of Commons. The trend of a one-digit support
for UKIP continued until the beginning of 2013, when the party began to regularly
receive a double-digit support. Confirmation of this trend are the BES data from 2014,
according to which more than half of the UKIP voters from 2014 elections declare
voting for the party in the elections to the House of Commons in 2015. The surveys of
October 2014, carried out immediately after a victory in the Clacton by-elections gave
UKIP as much as 25%, compared to 13% -15% achieved in the previous weeks.
The support surveys and by-elections success finally showed that UKIP is a
threat not only to the Conservatives, but also to Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
These parties, aware of a new threat, started modifying their policies in order to
prepare for effective competition with UKIP. Whether UKIP manages to enter the
House of Commons and a potential coalition of conservatives after the election in
2015, will depend on the effectiveness of these strategies and on institutional
conditions - mainly the electoral system.
Consequences of first-past-the-post electoral system
One of the factors shaping the scale of the possible success of UKIP in the
elections to the House of Commons will be the situation resulting from the British
electoral system. In a relative majority single-member system, more important than
the average support in the country is its concentration in the constituencies. In the
election of 1983 the coalition of SDP and the Liberals won 25.4% of votes, which
resulted in only 23 seats in parliament - the same fate could happen to UKIP because,
as shown by the data of the previous election, their support is so far spread quite
evenly.

The recent success of UKIP in the by-elections may herald a change in this
trend. In Clacton, a UKIP defector from the Conservative Party won the first ever
mandate to the House of Commons by a majority of 59.75% of the votes, and in
Heywood and Middleton UKIP almost denied the Labour mandate by winning 39% of
the votes - one of the biggest swings in the history of British elections. Success in byelections may not only provide lots of momentum for the May elections, but also
become the beginning of UKIP strongholds (BBC, 2014), what can become the key to
gain seats in the elections in May 2015.
Realignment of the mainstream parties
So far, the main attempt by the Conservatives and Labour to counter the
success of UKIP is somewhat trying to take over a part of the UKIP demands through
radicalization of their own program. The declaration of David Cameron to hold an inout referendum on UK membership in the EU, appears to be an act directed
specifically against UKIP. Its implementation refers to the fundamental postulate of
the party. Regardless of the outcome of the referendum it will be possible to say that
the essential purpose for which UKIP was appointed, ceased to exist. These postulates
are also accompanied by promises to renegotiate with Brussels the possibility of
restrictions of the free movement of workers and tightening the asylum policy.
The Labour Party also gives statements in this area, proclaiming a transition
from the policy of free movement of labour to a policy of fair movement of
labour (Wintour, Watt, 2014b). In the area of European policies Labour, just as Lib
Dems, agree to a referendum, but only in the event of further delegation of powers to
the European level.
The strategy to compete with UKIP with more radical demands, however,
seems to be quite risky, if only because UKIP, unlike the CP and LP, will not have a
chance to exercise power, and therefore they will never be rated for implementing
them. As Tim Bale and Oliver Gruber (2014) noted, basing on the example of the
Austrian Freedom Party, that such a rivalry leads rather to legitimization of the
opponents demands and the including them, however absurd, in circulation of public
debate. Ultimately the attempt to destroy the opponent brings more losses than
benefits to the mainstream party.
Analyzing the UKIP position on the British political scene and its chances of
breaking the mould of the British party system, one can not escape the comparison

with appearance of the SDP in the 80s. SDP and Liberals coalition also fuelled media
excitement, won by-elections, and regularly occupied second place in the polls
(Crewe, King, 1995: 152). Despite this, the election of 1983, in terms of the number
of seats gained, it proved to be a disaster. It can not yet be decided whether the same
fate awaits UKIP, but nevertheless their current support says a lot about
transformations of the British electorate.
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