UKIP, a party that in recent years has become a powerful force for Eurosceptics to challenge the establishment. After rising to victory in the 2014 European elections, it was clear that UKIP had made an EU referendum inevitable. This had given Farage a soapbox from which to espouse his views and give a voice to the supposed “silent majority” who felt aggrieved by the EU, but also by the rising xenophobic sentiment. There is speculation surrounding the future of UKIP and what route the party will take now that the public has arbitrated on what it thinks of the EU establishment.
Although Farage’s Grassroots Out lost the bid to lead the BrExit campaign, an issue which created friction between him, Suzanne Evans and Douglas Carswell, Farage continued to be the poster boy for the Leave campaign, keeping UKIP in the spotlight.
Indeed, when one thinks of UKIP and what they stand for, it is unlikely that you will be able to conjure thoughts other than the EU and immigration. UKIP are very much a pressure group-esque organisation in the sense that they rose to the political stage with one main focus. Now that Britain has decided to abandon the EU and take its first breath of independence, assuming that the leave process is successful of course, UKIP will lose all of their 24 European Parliament seats, meaning they can no longer influence policy coming out of Brussels. Following the unexpected resignation of Farage, who was the face of UKIP, the party will have their work cut out finding a replacement to fill the humongous shoes left behind. Furthermore, as a Parliamentary party Westminster’s First Past the Post system very much leaves power the reserve of the Conservatives and Labour, leaving UKIP out in the rain with little hope of gaining any notable power, so we must question where does this leave UKIP?
UKIP MEPs Mike Hookhem and Jane Collins issued a joint statement, “Had it not been for UKIP and specifically the dedication of Nigel Farage we would not be waking up this morning to a bright, new future for the United Kingdom”. UKIP clearly believe that they have been the guardian angels of Britons, but will this translate into electoral success with the looming possibility of a general election come November? One could see UKIP as the natural heir to the post-EU crown of British government. For one, the Labour party are in disarray, following the attempted coup and subsequent sacking of now former Shadow Defence Secretary Hilary Benn, as well as the resignation of 63 Shadow Cabinet members and ministers and a vote of no confidence, supported by 172 MPs, bringing up the issue of an internal leadership struggle, Labour are unable to offer any effective opposition. There is also the glaring fact that Labour have very much become a bastion of the middle classes, and no longer cater to the gripes of the working class as being top of their agenda. UKIP appear to have tapped in to this development, and UKIP MEP Nutall knows it, “You’ve got a Labour party that doesn’t represent that working class in the way that it used to – we can move in on to their territory”, but this is questionable since without Farage, one of the main reasons UKIP was able to cause such a stir in the political realm, I strongly doubt UKIP will achieve the same amount of support. The Conservatives have been split over the EU, with the announced resignation of Cameron, it is expected that the Conservatives will be more concerned with selecting a leader than appealing to the public.
There is also the issue that the Conservatives will have to burden the gruelling task of bartering with the EU in an attempt to get the best deal for Britain. It is a given that gaining access to the single market will be the EU’s key bargaining chip. Assuming that the current leader in the polls, Home Secretary Theresa May, becomes Prime Minister, she, as was the case with Switzerland, will inevitably have to compromise over freedom of movement controls which had been the rhetoric that many of the British public had based their vote on. This will expectedly be hard to swallow for the British public if this happens to be the case, who will likely rally around UKIP who will protest against such measures by restarting their anti-immigration mantra which has gained massive popularity in recent years, due to mass immigration, consequently strengthening UKIP’s position. Over the next 2 or so years, depending on how smoothly exit negotiations proceed, it’s safe to say that UKIP will be able to keep the spotlight on themselves, although this may be more difficult without the populist demagogue that is Nigel Farage. As previously mentioned by Hookhem and Collins’ joint statement, UKIP will view themselves as essential in the negotiation process, we are likely to see UKIP keep the pressure on the future Prime Minister by issuing a stream of demands on behalf of the public. Farage (and therefore UKIP), by virtue of not being a member of the Leave Campaign in a sense can dodge much of the criticism that has been launched at Vote Leave for backpedalling on a number of claims, thus allowing UKIP to maintain an advantageous position. Along with the fact that whilst only having 1 MP, UKIP does represent 12.6% of the electorate, so it would be against governments’ interests to exclude UKIP’s input from the negotiations process.
With the general election in November looking unlikely, the potential for a UKIP surge has been anything but diffused by the referendum result. I believe we will see a calmer period of British party politics to follow, the emergence of more centrist politics for the reason that the Corbyn project appears to be coming to a conclusion, the Liberal Democrats have left a bitter taste in the mouth for much of the electorate due to their sterling ability to disappoint over keeping promises, and the Conservatives if they’re to win the November election will be forced to return to the centre. That being said, the rise in racially motivated hate crime shows that nationalism is on the rise and, if the next PM does choose an EEA style deal, UKIP could profit from that raw anger.