Nigel Farage and Ukip are convinced they can win the EU referendum by focusing on immigration as the key issue. But other Eurosceptics have been concerned that the kippers will alienate the public — and non-Ukip sympathisers in particular — with their tough rhetoric on this topic and the ‘In’ side will triumph. British Future, a think tank which studies the effects of migration, has commissioned a set of polls which confirms this risk exists.
According to the polling conducted by Survation, 58 per cent agree that ‘Ukip risk bringing prejudice into debates on immigration’ — something 44 per cent of those described as ‘leaning Out’ agree with, as well as 74 per cent of those ‘leaning In’. Brexit campaigners are concerned about the latter group: if Ukip hogs the limelight over the next few months and toxifies the debate, it will make it harder to convince the soft ‘leaning In’ to change their minds.
The polling also offers some ideas on why Ukip failed to make greater gains at the ballot box in May. Just over half say Ukip talked ‘too much’ about immigration during the general election campaign, compared to 46 per cent who through they were ‘about right’ on Europe. Around half also thought the kippers talked too little about the economy and NHS.
Unsurprisingly, 80 per cent of Ukip supporters think they got it right on immigration, while 48 per cent of Conservative voters disagree as well as a majority of Lib Dem and Labour voters. According to Sunder Katwala, director of British Future, this suggests the party has hit a ‘purple ceiling’:
‘Immigration was the big reason for Ukip’s popularity – but the party’s polarising campaign on the issue also proved a significant barrier to its winning more seats in the election. Ukip hit a ‘purple ceiling’ of one in three votes everywhere except Clacton, where Douglas Carswell ran his own highly distinctive, optimistic and locally rooted Ukip campaign.’
Farage is launching Ukip’s ‘Say No’ campaign in Westminster this morning, outlining details of his tour around the country to rally support for the Out campaign. He will undoubtedly lambast other Eurosceptics for sitting on their hands and giving the ‘In’ campaign a head start. In fact, many of them are letting Ukip do their own thing. As Isabel reported yesterday, things are beginning to move behind the scenes in a more subtle manner than Farage’s brash public approach.