Progressive politics and the purple peril: The rise of UKIP

By Dr Robert Ford and Dr Matthew Goodwin look at the real threat UKIP pose to the three main parties in next month's local elections.

By Dr Robert Ford and Dr Matthew Goodwin; Ford is a research fellow in politics at the Institute for Social Change, University of Manchester – his research can be found here – and Goodwin is a lecturer at the University of Nottingham, whose forthcoming book, ‘The New British Fascism: Rise of the BNP’, is published on Thursday, May 5th

UKIP, a party once dismissed as being filled with “cranks and gadflies”, poses a real threat to the main parties at the forthcoming elections.


It was perhaps an acknowledgement of this challenge from a resurgent UKIP which encouraged David Cameron to make a controversial speech on immigration this week, in which he reached out to disgruntled Conservatives who might be thinking of flirting with Nigel Farage.

Though grassroots Tories have long voiced concern over immigration, they have seldom been tempted by a credible alternative. But after polling almost 1 million votes in the general election, recruiting the help of former Tory donors and finishing second in the Barnsley by-election, there is no question UKIP is on a roll. Labour progressives might find it all too easy to dismiss these events as a fortuitous bout of internecine warfare on the right. But as our recent study shows, supporters of UKIP are more than just grumpy old Tories. And there are good reasons why Labour should also be concerned by their rise.

We have examined citizens who voted UKIP at the 2009 European elections. The election of two BNP candidates stole much of the limelight that night, but UKIP far outperformed them: they beat Labour for second place, won more than 16% of the vote and elected more than a dozen MEPs. It was the strongest performance by UKIP at any election.

Drawing on a poll undertaken by YouGov, our study sheds light on the profile and attitudes of some 4,500 UKIP supporters. Respondents were asked who they planned to vote for in the next Westminster elections as well as the European Parliament (EP) elections; this meant we could distinguish voters who leant UKIP support for EP elections from those who expressed a commitment to UKIP in domestic elections as well.

This distinction proved crucial.

“Strategic defectors” are voters who support UKIP at European elections but return to the Conservatives at general elections: they are older, financially comfortable, middle class men with Conservative sympathies, socially conservative Eurosceptics who are motivated principally by their desire to send a message to the Conservatives. They are driven principally by Euroscepticism (unsurprisingly) and, to a lesser extent, concerns about immigration.

The “core loyalists”, on the other hand, stick with UKIP at all elections and are a very different electorate. They are more working class, more economically insecure, and more likely to say they come from Labour-voting families. In all these respects, as our chart below shows, they are more similar to the BNP’s support base than the Conservatives’.

Social-profile-of-Conservative-UKIP-and-BNP-voters
A similar pattern emerges when we look at their attitudes.

Core loyalists are intensely Eurosceptic, as we might expect, but they are also much more deeply disaffected with mainstream politics than the strategic defectors. Core loyalists regard all the main parties as the same and politicians as deeply corrupt. Anxiety over immigration also emerges as a more powerful motive for this group, although they are distinct from BNP voters on the issue of racism.

While we found many BNP supporters quite willing to endorse statements such as “black people are intellectually inferior”, UKIP core loyalists were much more reluctant – though they expressed higher levels of agreement with such statements than either mainstream Conservatives or strategic UKIP supporters.

Attitude-scale-scores-of-Conservative-UKIP-and-BNP-supporters
UKIP in domestic elections, then, are the BNP minus the racism. UKIP has appropriated the BNP’s most potent campaign themes – opposition to immigration, demands for Muslim integration, attacks on the political class – but is free of fascist baggage. This is important: upwards of 80% of voters continue to reject the notion that Griffin’s BNP is a credible alternative.

Unlike Griffin’s appearance on Question Time, no one is likely to accuse Nigel Farage of Holocaust denial or Nazi sympathies; but then, nor is Farage likely to defend the Ku Klux Klan. He is regarded – and treated – as a legitimate part of the political class. This empowers UKIP with the potential to win over the large pool of voters who remain disaffected from the mainstream, and are fearful about immigration – but disgusted by the extremism of the BNP.

So why should Labour worry? Our study finds UKIP’s domestic support is drawn from the same pool of angry white working class voters as the BNP, but in 2009 UKIP was already three times as popular. Since then, the political environment has changed dramatically, and largely to UKIP’s benefit. Rising unemployment and economic stagnation, combined with the coalition’s cuts to public services, will enlarge the pool of angry, economically struggling voters.

Controversies over immigration will also continue. Most migration remains outside of the government’s control and settlement rates are unlikely to hit David Cameron’s target. Voters will notice if the ‘cap’ fails, are likely to interpret the growth of already-settled minority communities as new waves of immigration and, in short, will not be happy.

There are wider consequences, as our colleague Dr Lauren McLaren has shown. When voters hold negative ratings of immigration, they are also less likely to trust their political institutions.

The entrance of the Liberal Democrats into the coalition has also changed the dynamic, for it leaves UKIP alone as the only “protest party” with national presence for voters disgruntled with the coalition but also unimpressed with Labour. This gives UKIP an unprecedented opportunity to build a national presence. They have a large electorate of socially conservative, Eurosceptic, anti-elitist, anti-immigration voters virtually to themselves.

The BNP’s bankruptcy and infighting leaves no competition on the far right; the compromises of coalition limit the Conservatives’ ability to compete from the centre-right; and Labour’s divisions over immigration leave the centre left silent on an issue which is of major concern to voters.

How concerned should those on the centre left be? In a recent study, we estimated that perhaps 20% of the British electorate are available to be mobilised by a radical right party. The Searchlight Trust recently came to the same conclusion, noting how Britain lacks a successful radical right party:

“…not because British people are more moderate but simply because these views have not found a political articulation.”

A sustained breakthrough for UKIP would have serious consequences. The emergence of powerful radical right movements in countries like Denmark, the Netherlands and France has pushed the debate over immigration, identity and integration firmly to the right. France has implemented a burqa ban; the Dutch government relies for its majority on a party whose leader compares the Koran to Mein Kampf; and the entrance of the Danish People’s Party into a governing coalition led to the passage of draconian immigration laws.

UKIP still has weaknesses, particularly in the strength of its activist base and local organisation, but it is operating in the most favourable environment it has ever seen and if it breaks through there is widespread support for its brand of politics. Those on the centre left who are cheered by the collapse of the BNP could soon find themselves facing a much more potent and respected radical right competitor. They need to develop an effective response. And now.

As you’re here, we have something to ask you. What we do here to deliver real news is more important than ever. But there’s a problem: we need readers like you to chip in to help us survive. We deliver progressive, independent media, that challenges the right’s hateful rhetoric. Together we can find the stories that get lost.

We’re not bankrolled by billionaire donors, but rely on readers chipping in whatever they can afford to protect our independence. What we do isn’t free, and we run on a shoestring. Can you help by chipping in as little as £1 a week to help us survive? Whatever you can donate, we’re so grateful - and we will ensure your money goes as far as possible to deliver hard-hitting news.

83 Responses to “Progressive politics and the purple peril: The rise of UKIP”

  1. Sam Bumby

    RT @leftfootfwd: Progressive politics and the purple peril: The rise of UKIP: http://bit.ly/hnI7BO by @GoodwinMJ and @RobFordMancs

  2. Adam Langleben

    RT @leftfootfwd: Progressive politics and the purple peril: The rise of UKIP: http://bit.ly/hnI7BO by @GoodwinMJ and @RobFordMancs

  3. Philip Cane

    RT @leftfootfwd: Progressive politics and the purple peril: The rise of UKIP: http://bit.ly/hnI7BO by @GoodwinMJ and @RobFordMancs

  4. Matthew Goodwin

    RT @leftfootfwd: Progressive politics and the purple peril: The rise of UKIP: http://bit.ly/hnI7BO by @GoodwinMJ and @RobFordMancs

  5. anotherwhitemug.com

    Progressive politics and the purple peril: The rise of UKIP | Left … – The election of two BNP candidates … http://is.gd/MpEUXL

  6. Matthew Goodwin

    Progressive politics and the purple peril: The rise of UKIP | our piece in @leftfootfwd –> http://bit.ly/fMwuHF

  7. Cary D Conover

    Progressive politics and the purple peril: The rise of UKIP: It was perhaps an acknowledgemen… http://tinyurl.com/43gr8uq #IMMIGRATION

  8. Daniel Stevens

    Progressive politics and the purple peril: The rise of UKIP: It was perhaps an acknowledgement of this challenge… http://bit.ly/gfWbdk

  9. Ganja Bot

    Progressive politics and the purple peril: The rise of UKIP – Left Foot Forward http://ff.im/-BloXj

  10. Philip Cowley

    RT @GoodwinMJ: Progressive politics and the purple peril: The rise of UKIP | our piece in @leftfootfwd –> http://bit.ly/fMwuHF

  11. WestMonster

    RT @leftfootfwd: Progressive politics and the purple peril: The rise of UKIP: http://bit.ly/hnI7BO by @GoodwinMJ and @RobFordMancs

  12. Matthew Goodwin

    Leftfootfwd: Progressive politics and the purple peril: The rise of UKIP: http://t.co/AE6wnaF by @GoodwinMJ and @RobFordMancs

  13. Mr T

    UKIP are hardly Radical Right
    The University of leicester study shows that they are an Emerging Centre Right Libertarian Party, Completely incomparable wiht the BNP who are an Authoritarian Left Wing party

  14. Trakgalvis

    RT @leftfootfwd: Progressive politics and the purple peril: The rise of UKIP: http://bit.ly/hnI7BO by @GoodwinMJ and @RobFordMancs

  15. Owen Jones

    Fascinating (and worrying) study that UKIP's core base is working-class voters, not the 'Hyacinth Bouquet' voter http://bit.ly/hflelh

  16. MustBeRead

    Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin for @LeftFootFwd: The rise of UKIP, "the purple peril" http://j.mp/hflelh

  17. Owen Jones

    Fascinating (and worrying) study that UKIP's core base is made up of working-class voters http://bit.ly/hflelh

  18. Philip Cowley

    RT @MustBeRead: Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin for @LeftFootFwd: The rise of UKIP, "the purple peril" http://j.mp/hflelh

  19. Diarmuid Angland

    RT @MustBeRead: Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin for @LeftFootFwd: The rise of UKIP, "the purple peril" http://j.mp/hflelh

  20. paulstpancras

    RT @MustBeRead: Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin for @LeftFootFwd: The rise of UKIP, "the purple peril" http://j.mp/hflelh

  21. Libertarian

    “UKIP in domestic elections, then, are the BNP minus the racism.”

    Somebody missed economics class! UKIP and the BNP are as far apart on the political spectrum as one can get. UKIP are libertarian, anti-state and pro-free market. The BNP on the otherhand are socialist, statist, both in the size of government (they like it big) and in that the economy is massively centrally controlled. Saying UKIP and the BNP are nearly the same is like comparing a lemming to a clock.

    To call UKIP radical right is also like likening an adult movie where a breast is exposed and calling it hardcore pornography. Since when was it radical right wing to demand the people have their voice heard, to reduce the size of the government and bring democracy back to this country? I suppose there are those who get spoonfed the lies of a scared political elite and will willingly believe their lies.

    The rest of the article though was fine, but somewhat annoyed at the ignorant summing up and misleading comparison to UKIP and the BNP. But hey, that’s having a free media, I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

  22. paulstpancras

    RT @OwenJones84: Fascinating (and worrying) study that UKIP's core base is made up of working-class voters http://bit.ly/hflelh

  23. SlashedUK

    RT @leftfootfwd: Progressive politics and the purple peril: The rise of UKIP: http://bit.ly/hnI7BO by @GoodwinMJ and @RobFordMancs

  24. Brintha Gowrishankar

    RT @OwenJones84: Fascinating (and worrying) study that UKIP's core base is made up of working-class voters http://bit.ly/hflelh

  25. XYDO Politics

    Progressive politics and the purple peril: The rise of UKIP http://bit.ly/eBsudP

  26. Joluni

    RT @OwenJones84: Fascinating (and worrying) study that UKIP's core base is made up of working-class voters http://bit.ly/hflelh

  27. Tim Worstall

    An important point which I think many will gloss over:

    “Our study finds UKIP’s domestic support is drawn from the same pool of angry white working class voters as the BNP”

    And that white working class vote is of course the bedrock of the Labour vote. That really should worry you all.

    I should perhaps point out that I was one of the press officers for UKIP in the run up to the euro-election you’re talking about here. So I do know some of what I’m talking about.

    UKIP draws it’s support from markedly different groups in different parts of the country. In the Midlands and the North it is very much that working class vote, that vote which is disillusioned with Labour, that we’re competing for (and as you note, gaining an edge upon). In the SE and SW it’s very much more taking votes from Tories than it is Labour.

    In your report you say:

    “This leads us to hypothesize that,
    after controlling for socio-demographic characteristics, UKIP may derive support
    from citizens dissatisfied with established mainstream parties.”

    Very much so. It did start out as a specifically anti-European Union, one issue, party. But that message of “Sod them all” is finding fertile soil. Because an increasingly large number of people really do want to get rid of the established political classes of all ideological flavours.

    Which leads to the interesting question those established political classes should be asking themselves. How did we so lose touch with such a significant portion of the voters that they’re willing to wish a pox on all our houses? Until you’ve worked out the answer (and response) to that question then UKIP is likely to continue its rise.

  28. RNM101

    If you need to commission polls to find out about the electorate then you’ve lost touch with people. Hence the glorious rise of UK I P.
    We’re the only party that really holds to our principles. Liblabcon is dying a slow and painful death and good riddance.

  29. Northern Worker

    Quite simply, today’s champagne, twittering class socialists are no different from the coalition. They are all people who have never had a proper job. They are supposed to represent us but when I talk to my labour mp I get the same bigot stuff Gordon Brown heaped on that lady. I would never vote BNP but I do now vote UKIP because they will pull us out of the EU, which is the source of all our troubles. And they take a sensible view on government interference in our liberty and freedom and stuff like the smoking ban. Labour now only represents Labour.

  30. Brad

    BNP could represent more people, if only they would clean their act up.

    People are starting to realise Labour are in fact the racist party and damn to hell if they think we will be pushed out of our own homeland to satisfy their white liberal guilt.

  31. mupps

    “I do now vote UKIP because they will pull us out of the EU, which is the source of all our troubles.”
    ******************************************

    So when the UK does eventually leave the EU and the “troubles” continue to happen like in a normal country….who’ll be to blame for them then?

  32. First man on Mars

    It is disingenuous to associate UKIP with the likes of the BNP. The BNP are (apart from their racism) a Socialist/collectivist party. UKIP is a very Libertarian/individualist party. I suppose this just comes down to the inadequacies of ‘left vs right’ political spectrum, there is no room for those who support both social and economic freedom – only those who support one or the other.

  33. Thomas Haynes

    Very interesting piece on Left Foot Forward about the rise of #UKIP http://t.co/IrWf5qy

  34. Robert Foulkes

    Being completely fed up with the “twittering classes” I’ve decided that enough is enough. So, I’m standing for UKIP at the elections in May to give people the opportunity to vote for real change. I’ve never been involved in politcs before, but I do know when we’re being taken for idiots. Hopefully, the electorate knows this too. The proof of the pudding will be in the results, so May 5th should be very interesting to all these political pundits.

  35. Hens4Freedom

    RT @leftfootfwd: Progressive politics and the purple peril: The rise of UKIP: http://bit.ly/hnI7BO by @GoodwinMJ and @RobFordMancs

  36. Hotspur

    RT @leftfootfwd: Progressive politics and the purple peril: The rise of UKIP http://bit.ly/evmgPn

  37. Dave Citizen

    Tempting though it sometimes is to believe Britain’s woes are rooted in our membership of the EU and the ‘political classes’ that put us there, we ain’t that lucky.

    If we want to build a prosperous Britain, where the bulk of working families enjoy improving living standards, satisfying employment and where all our children receive a top class education, we need to look a lot deeper than that.

    The evidence is out there in spades that more egalitarian societies like Germany or Sweden are better equiped to deal with the challenges of a globalised economy in ways that benefit their mass populations. But going down this road in Britain would challenge powerful vested interests.

    For example, ask UKIP how they will move Britain away from the disgracefully unequal two-tier education system that wastes so much of our young talent and I bet you’ll get the kind of double speak answer we’ve got used to from the established political classes.

  38. Annabelle Fuller

    Deeply unimpressed with this article: https://www.leftfootforward.org/2011/04/the-rise-of-ukip/ UKIP are libertarian, not 'BNP minus racism'

  39. Sovereignty Research

    @GawainTowler What a title! http://bit.ly/g1HNKg Sounds like some sort of penile super-villain.

  40. Progressive politics and the purple peril: The rise of UKIP

    […] Your Ad Here Progressive politics and the purple peril: The rise of UKIP | Left Foot Forward Interesting article from some leftist academics. Worth reading the whole article. Here though is a […]

  41. Grels

    “The entrance of the Liberal Democrats into the coalition has also changed the dynamic, for it leaves UKIP alone as the only “protest party” with national presence for voters disgruntled with the coalition but also unimpressed with Labour.”

    -I guess the technicality with this sentence is that that the green party is devolved in the UK.

    On the whole I really dislike this piece. I wonder if “evidence based blogging” is becoming “academic book flogging”?

  42. peter patrick glancy campbell

    as a candidate for ukip west coast of scotland ,i saw the purple pearl coming after ukips 16% surge in the eu elections we can now go all the way as many like myself in my age group are very angry , knowing many who lost there lives in both world wars ,just to see the beast from brussels nwo eu being surrendered by our baboons now in govement, iam on my way next month to a world conference in rome invited by http://www.fatima.org i have many irons in the fire? my main one being a defender of my christian faith against the onslaught from baroness ashton and her cronies in the house babal over in bussels god speed ukip victory lord?

  43. Markangelo

    Labour obviously must realise that they are in danger of losing some of their core constituency, because of the immigration issue. This trend might continue, if people become increasingly upset about it.

    Having read the proposals of these “Blue Labour” thinkers, it seems as though they are thinking of becoming something of a British working man party again – exactly like the BNP socially and economically, except without the explicit racism.

    Given that the large immigrant groups seem to see Labour as their party, if Labour does decide to desert them, surely they will be lacking proper representation from any party. And so I wonder if we will get immigrant parties such as Respect, and then some kind of further descent into ethnic tribalism.

  44. Mr. Sensible

    “the BNP who are an Authoritarian Left Wing party”

    Now I’ve heard everything!

    Well all I can say is if UKIP want to make headway, their leader should put their manifesto on his reading list, and they should stop being out of ouch on the banks.

  45. Once Labour, now UKIP.

    I am one of “UKIP” core loyalists, having originally been from a very pro Labour / Union family. I have absolutely no time for the snobbish eton elitism of the Conservative Party, the vulgar racism of the BNP, nor the authoritarian, big state, open door immigration of Labour.

    I increasingly became both disgusted and disillusioned with Labour and the Conservatives and increasingly noticed over the years, albeit slowly, that the EU was becoming increasingly expensive, authoritarian, undemocratic and interfering. Giving away control of Britain’s borders in the pursuit of a deeply politicial and ideological EU project was for me a disgraceful breach of trust with the electorate. Watching the disgraceful lies around the EU Constitution and then the ignoring of the referendums in Holland, France and IrelandVdid it for me. I’ve never voted Labour since and would never vote Conservative or Labour ever again.

    The traditional Labour and Conservative euro-sceptics such as Peter Shore were right, years ahead of their time and they should now be congratulated for their vision and wisdom. That vision and wisdom now lives on, and will grow in UKIP until Britain finally extracts itself from this nearly 40 year exodus from both reality and its own history.

  46. Jedibeeftrix

    Interesting that LFF takes the time to contrast the Cons against UKIP supporters and the BNP, when talking about racism and quotes about “black people being thicker”, but does not add Labour into this equation too.

    The core loyalists are after all far more likely to come from labour-voting backgrounds, just as the strategic defectors are more likely to come from right wing backgrounds.

    Why is Labour not subject to the same ‘rigorous’ analysis?

  47. Dave Atherton

    “We are socialists, we are enemies of today’s capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are determined to destroy this system under all conditions.”

    Adolf Hitler, Leader of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, Speech on May 1 1927

  48. Mr A

    It is interesting to read this debate as it just goes to show how inadequate (and indeed, irrelevant) the old left/right divide between “The Big Two” is nowadays, and it demonstrates how those politicians who hark on about the dangers of Labour / the Tories (delete as applicable) just show themselves as being increasingly out of touch. And we see that in this piece with the assertion that UKIP is the BNP without the racism. As has already been pointed out, despite the Media’s constant assertions that they are a far right party, the BNP are actually far Left. They are big State authoritarians. Just look at their manifesto – they are in favour of mass nationalisation, high Government spending…. if anything, they are the 1983 Labour Party… with added racism. The fact that they are both nationalists and socialists should highlight where they really are on the political spectrum; they get called Nazis often enough – you really think that would be something of a clue.

    UKIP on the other hand are the nearest thing the UK has to a Libertarian party – they are small State and pro-individual. And what should worry the other major parties is that many of their policies are not just popular with the electorate they are also the only party offering a choice on those issues – the main parties are actively driving voters to UKIP. Its opposition to the smoking Ban, often considered an irrelevance by many of the political elite has won UKIP many thousands if not millions of votes. And the continuing unpopularity of Europe, as well as concerns about immigration are also hot-topics that UKIP is offering an alternative position on, and one that is popular with many voters.

    In fact, if voters voted according to ticking policies they agreed with then UKIP would be very powerful indeed. The only thing that is keeping the Big Two in power at the moment is tradition (“My father always voted for….”) and a fear of a vote for UKIP letting the least desirable of the Big Two back in. If UKIP manage to gain a critical mass so that these doubts become less powerful, then there may be a mass exodus to UKIP. Of course, that is a very big IF….

  49. BenM

    Scratch the surface and UKIP are the same dreary Daily Mail reading rigtwing reactionaries who get far too much airtime in this country.

    It is laughable that one of their number posting here reckons all our problems start with the EU. There is the Partys stupidity in one characteristic assertion.

  50. AltGovUK

    RT @leftfootfwd: Progressive politics and the purple peril: The rise of UKIP: http://bit.ly/hnI7BO by @GoodwinMJ and @RobFordMancs

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.