“There’s a debate we will have now about this election: was the SNP fear factor enough to bring these Conservative defectors (to Ukip) back in? Was this an endorsement of David Cameron’s brand of conservatism or was it simply a rejection of the prospect of an SNP-Labour alliance?” (Dr Matthew Goodwin, Associate Professor of Politics at Nottingham University and co author of Revolt on the Right, on BBC Radio Four’s PM yesterday.)
First though hear what Dr Goodwin was also able to point out against the noisy backdrop of BBC’s sheer schadenfreude at Ukip infighting – thanks only to the Eddie Mair, consistently the fairest of the BBC’s news interviewers.
It was this: “Nigel Farage was given a further term as leader (of Ukip) only recently and if there is a leadership election over the summer to try and neutralise the (current) infighting there is no doubt in my mind and knowing Ukip supporters reasonably well (having surveyed them) that Nigel Farage will be re-elected as leader.
“To go back to this issue (raised by Eddie Mair) of whether Ukip can last beyond the (EU) referendum what is interesting is that when we ask people why they vote for Ukip, it isn’t just about the EU, it’s about immigration, it’s about dissatisfaction with Cameron and what they perceive to be an abandonment of traditional conservative principles.”
It seems Dr Goodwin was describing the driving force behind this non party-aligned website too.
As Goodwin noted, this dissatisfaction and discontent is not going to go away. Ukip, in his expert view, has established a niche in British politics, which is here to stay regardless of the party’s current suicide mission. If you look across to Europe, he argued, when radical right populist parties have emerged there they stay, commanding anything between 10 to 20 per cent of the national vote
“My instinct is”, he concluded, “that there is still a great potential for a radical right competition to both the Conservatives and Labour.” This comes from a man who knows, the academic who has painstakingly tracked the rise both of the Ukip and the Farage phenomenon since Ukip’s inception under the now bitter and vindictive Dr Sked back in 1993.
The current set of pygmies who’ve turned on Farage, I suspect, were still too busy quarrelling and bad-mouthing each other to have found the time to listen to what Dr Goodwin had to say. More fool them.
Mr Farage would be wise to do a spot of listening himself, however. For his real political challenge is not just to keep Cameron to his word and to lead the OUT campaign (they’d be mad not to have him). It is to find (and secure) a bridge between Ukip’s northern ‘blue’ Labour support and its disaffected Conservative eastern and southern enclaves. That’s if he doesn’t want to find himself bestriding an ever widening gulf between them, as Nick Wood warned of yesterday.
I believe he can. It is not impossible and I don’t thank Dr Goodwin thinks it is. The common denominator is as much cultural as political and it is called social conservatism with a small c.
It is one thing of course identifying it. It is another turning common concerns into a united and popular movement. That requires a strategy and a professional and loyal team with the status, expertise, organisation and communication skills to effect it. These are all things that Mr Farage still sadly lacks. And a leader is only as good as his lieutenants.
But he could do worse than start by getting this friendly and independent-minded academic onside and at his side.