Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Opinions are divided on whether the Conservatives or Labour need to worry most about UK Independence Party (UKIP) in the 2015 General Election. How do we reconcile evidence of substantial levels of UKIP support among traditional working class voters, and in Labour constituencies, with evidence that UKIP voters report voting Conservative in 2010? In this article, we resolve this implicit contradiction using long-term panel data to examine the sequencing of vote switching from Labour to UKIP. We argue that Labour's move to the ‘liberal consensus’ on the EU and immigration led to many of their core voters defecting before UKIP were an effective political presence. We show that not only is the working-class basis of UKIP overstated but the party is mainly attracting disaffected former Labour voters from the Conservatives and elsewhere, which is why the Conservatives, not Labour, will feel most of the electoral pain in 2015.
Ford and Goodwin's argument that UKIP is dividing the left more than the right (Ford and Goodwin, 2014c) and replacing Labour as the main party of the working class misses the significance of the sequencing of voter defections: labour drove these people away before UKIP arrived. But we should also note that UKIP's rise has to be understood in the context not only of the Labour Party's move to the centre and its impact on their core support, but also in the Conservative Party's own resulting centrist shift, which will have in turn alienated some of its core supporters. The extent of support for RRPs by right-wing groups such as small business employers and the self-employed has been observed in many other European societies—even in 1930s Germany (Hamilton, 1983). These people have been overlooked in Ford and Goodwin's analysis, as has the rather more prosaic observation that most UKIP support actually comes from the established middle classes, if only because these are the largest classes. These are clearly not the ‘left behind’.