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Nigel Farage and ‘new Ukip’ are running away from disaffected Tories. Why?

16 March 2014

2:00 PM

16 March 2014

2:00 PM

Who votes Ukip? It’s a question psephologists have been trying to answer for years but Nigel Farage had a clear response on the Sunday Politics today: not just disaffected Conservatives. Based on research by Lord Ashcroft, Farage boasted that ’new Ukip’ — a party which is ‘a lot of more professional, a lot more smiley, a lot less angry’ — now has such a great influence on the Labour party, they will be forced into changing their stance on an EU referendum following May’s Euro elections:

‘There’s a long way to go between now and the next election. As we’ve seen with Conservative policy, it chops and changes…I think what the Labour party have done this week with Miliband’s speech is to open up a huge flank to us, and that’s what we’re going to go for in the European elections this coming year. I think there’s a very strong chance Labour will match the Conservatives pledge by the next election’

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When quizzed on what he expects to happen at the next general election, Farage hammered home again that Ukip are taking votes from all parties:

‘Remember two thirds of our voters would never vote Conservative anyway. There is still this line of questioning that assumes that Ukip voters are shire middle-class Tories.

And again:

‘Only a third of the Ukip vote comes from the Conservative party. It’s about time the commentariat woke up to the fact that we actually appeal to blue collar voters.

And one last time for good luck:

‘No, no no, no! Look at the numbers. Only a third of our voters are Conservatives!’

For a man who dislikes sound bites, this very much sounds like one. Why is Farage so worried? Firstly, internal Tory research slightly contradicts what he is saying; it suggests that overwhelmingly, Ukip voters are either disaffected Tories or non-voters. There is a great danger for Farage that the latter category will dry up after the European elections, and his party will fail to make any big gains in 2015. A precedent has already been set for this: in the 2009 European elections, Ukip bagged 17 per cent of the vote. In the 2010 general election, this dropped to just just 3 per cent.

Farage and co are worried the same will happen again this time, and his party will become irrelevant after focus turns to 2015. Conservative strategists believe Ed Miliband’s chances of becoming Prime Minister will hugely depend on what happens with Ukip, and whether they splits the Tory vote. If Farage garnered say 8 per cent at a general election — as some in Labour have been suggesting — this could have a transformative effect on who wins. Therefore, expect to see Farage painted by the Conservatives as Ed’s best friend, the man who will take him into Downing Street. His protestations about who votes Ukip are an attempt to show that this isn’t the case.

Secondly, Farage’s stance also doesn’t take into account something in the hearts of all genuine Eurosceptics. David Cameron in No.10 means an EU referendum. Ed Miliband does not. Even most Farage-supporting fervent Eurosceptic has binary choice at the next election. Will this destroy Ukip by 2015? What we’ve heard from Farage today suggests he desperately hopes not.

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