Some would argue that my headline is misleading: that UKIP have already had electoral success. The 2014 Euros? Yes, but that was sort of a protest vote. In December of that same year, six months out from the general election, I predicted that UKIP would end up with one seat, that being Douglas Carswell’s, post May 7th, 2015. The only thing about my prediction that is off is my optimism for Labour and the Lib Dems in certain seats; the key prediction being that Nigel Farage would not win in South Thanet.
Anyway, moving on: what happens to UKIP now? They seem at a low point post-election, but that’s really down to two things: their poor showing seat-wise at the election (and the forms of denial that accompany that) and the fact that Nigel Farage is still in charge. If you look at their current problems – Carswell not being involved in the UKIP-centred Out campaign, for instance – they all have to do with Farage still being leader in some way.
UKIP’s biggest problem being that their largest target audience has turned out to be disgruntled, ex-Labour, working-class voters. And Nigel is exactly wrong for that crowd. An upper-middle class, southern, ex-Tory, ex-City man, whose politics are essentially of the Thatcherite right is a bad fit. If UKIP had a working-class northerner who took UKIP to the left economically, they could be a terrifying political force. They have sort of tried this a bit already, but it will never truly work while Farage is still involved, never mind leader of the party.
The crunch time for UKIP will be post-referendum. If we vote to leave, the pandemonium would be so huge it’s difficult to begin to predict what would happen to any political party, never mind UKIP. But if we vote for the status quo, UKIP will come to a fork in the road. Option one is that they move on from Farage, either with him leaving of his own accord or being forced out somehow, and someone like Nuttall takes over. Should this happen, UKIP could take a swathe of northern seats from Labour. They would be able to play on the anger of the referendum being a Cameron project, the renegotiation bad for them somehow. There will be a space for angry, working-class, northern, white votes and UKIP could fill this space quite easily; their transition to a less-overtly racist BNP complete.
Or Nigel carries on as leader. Then UKIP will simply limp on, never quite going away, but never quite getting enough concentrated support to win seats in the House of Commons not contested by Douglas Carswell. It goes without saying I sincerely hope that this latter scenario is the one that ends up being the reality. Stay, Nigel. Please stay.