Think the Ukip threat is over? Think again

by Stephen Tall on May 5, 2015

It’s only a couple of months since Ukip were being heavily tipped to win up to a dozen seats on Thursday. Yet the Faragistas look doomed for disappointment.

Shouty Nigel was out-insurgented by Cool Nicola in the debates. The right-wing press has rallied behind their chap,  Cameron. Three MPs seems now to be the best they can hope for, with some runner up spots as solace.

All of which means some have hastily written Ukip off. That would be a mistake.

They look likely to rack up a double-digit vote share, an impressive achievement that would yield them at least 60 seats under a less crazy electoral system than ours, and a major advance on the 3% they scraped in 2010. More importantly they gave the potential to do better still next time.

Here’s how…

1) Get a new leader.
This will happen automatically if Farage losses in Thanet South – he’s said as much himself – but even if he sneaks in there, Ukip would be well shot of him. He is to Ukip what Alex Salmond has been to the SNP: am unstoppable force of nature who’s propelled them forward but who is now an impediment to their future success. Ukip needs a new figurehead: less toxic, less divisive, less laddish. Step forward Suzanne Evans, Ukip’s leader-in-waiting, who can develop more simpatico lines like, “Ukip doesn’t have a problem with immigrants – it’s the immigration system that’s broken. And only Ukip can fix it.”

2) Hope the Tories win
If Cameron does (as I suspect) pull off a 1992-style bounce-back on Thursday, Ukip will be in clover. Why? Because the next three years will be dominated by one subject: Europe. Cameron’s promise of an in/out referendum on the UK’s renegotiated membership bought off his troublesome right-wing backbenchers for a few weeks. But it will dominate what remains of his second premiership. That keeps Ukip relevant. More importantly, it makes them distinctive. They will be the only major party urging withdrawal from the EU. They’ll almost certainly lose the plebiscite – the British nearly always choose the status quo, especially if their leaders recommend it – but it will galvanise and grow them, just as the Scottish independence referendum has transformed SNP fortunes.

3) Get ready for 2020
With a plausible, more moderate, leader and with Europe constantly in the news, Ukip will continue to expand as a political force. Their local government base – the councillor foot-soldiers essential to winning the ground war – will give them the opportunity to build a professional field-force. This election campaign has exposed the frailty of their campaigning in their target seats, but they have five years (probably) to get ready for next time: ruthlessly target, select early, and maximise voter contact.

The Ukip threat isn’t over. If Cameron’s still Prime Minister after Thursday, it’s only just beginning.

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