UKIP’s support isn’t just disaffected Tories. We speak out on issues that our political class want to cover up, writes UKIP Leader Nigel Farage MEP.
•In tight by-elections in two-party marginal seats, the other contestants usually get squeezed out. That is what makes UKIP’s 27.8 per cent share of the vote in Eastleigh after such a short campaign all the more remarkable. With each day that passed during the three-week run-up to voting, more and more commentators noticed the potential UKIP had to cause a big surprise.
A tremor has registered with the political establishment. Yet in response it has been desperately clamouring to write off the Eastleigh result as just a mid-term protest.
From a UKIP point of view the most desirable aspect of our surge was that it came from all directions. We got votes from as many Liberal Democrats as we did Tories, with a good number of old Labour voters choosing us too. For some it may have been a protest, but the vast majority feel that we speak for them on difficult issues that our political class has chosen to sweep under the carpet.
Our vote is based on our policies, whether on the European Union, open-door immigration or the damage being done to manufacturing by the green agenda. People are worried about their children’s education, employment, crime and how to put food on the table. Indeed a significant number of our supporters had not voted at all for twenty years, which surely cannot represent a protest vote. We can secure big votes anywhere in the country and if you add up the total number of votes cast in both the recent Rotherham by-election and Eastleigh, UKIP polled more votes than the other three main parties.
It may well have been an advantage in postal votes that put the Lib Dems ahead last Thursday. Strategically their campaign was correct, as we simply didn’t have time to reach postal voters. But looking at the votes cast on the day, we actually came first.
So, in order not to miss out in the future we must increase the size of our volunteer army and improve our professional techniques to reach voters. Our electoral machine is already miles ahead of where it was two years ago. This will put us closer still to winning our first Westminster seat. But we also need to learn from the Liberal Democrats, who achieved an extraordinary level of by-election success a few years ago by targeting seats in which they had already built up a local council base. In political terms we are still a very young party. But circumstance means that we are now maturing at a considerable rate.
Many commentators have suggested that I should have stood in Eastleigh. But I very much doubt that I would have scored any more votes than our excellent candidate Diane James. My reason for not standing is that I want to lead UKIP into the European elections next year as a candidate for the European Parliament. If Eastleigh caused a tremor, then the Euro elections give us the opportunity to set off an earthquake. The election will be held on the same day as local elections, which creates an opportunity to win council seats in real numbers. The Lib Dem experience shows that once you have sufficient representation on the local council in a constituency you can go on to win there in a general election or a by-election. Our prospects in the expected general election in 2015 will also depend on local council success.
For many years people have said that UKIP will never win a seat in the House of Commons. Well, last Thursday we came very close. This has been recognised by the other parties, and in the media, but also on the ground.
Our support is spread fairly evenly across the country — which represents a huge political strength, but is also an electoral weakness under the first-past-the-post. This system in turn means that a significant portion of political ideology and a large number of concerns are not only under represented, but are not even addressed. The democratic validity of our system is called into question when the opportunity to give voice in Westminster remains elusive to a party that has proven and significant support. The number of votes you get does not translate into the number of seats in Parliament.
However, that is the system the UK has and UKIP must recognise its limitations and work within them. While Eastern England is becoming our strongest area, we will be targeting our resources wisely in the county council elections this May and will hope that the right by-election comes along soon.
A vote for UKIP is not a vote for Labour by splitting the Tory vote, or a vote for Lib Dems by taking Labour votes. A vote for UKIP is an endorsement of our policies and the fact that we stand up for otherwise ignored voters.