The United Kingdom Independence Party [UKIP] made considerable gains in the County Council elections this week. The three major parties have their reasons to fear its continued advances. We assess the leadership lessons for them and for UKIP
Last week, [Thursday May 4th 2012] I suggested that the County Council elections and the performance of UKIP were blogworthy, noting:
In the UK, local elections this week are seen as a measure of protest votes away from the traditional political parties. The anti-immigration and (even more anti -European Union) party UKIP is tipped to poll well under the leadership of its somewhat unconventional leader, the ebullient Nigel Farage
UKIP polled better than was expected
Results justified my interest. UKIP polled well enough for their success to be the main media story.
The bare statistics [BBC summary] show that UKIP won over 140 seats and averaged 25% of the vote in the wards where it was standing. Projected to a dubious concept of projected national share of the vote, the figures in a general election translate to the Labour Party in the lead with 29% of the vote, the Conservatives with 25%, UKIP 23% of votes and the Lib Dems with 14%. Mr Cameron’s conservatives are the most vulnerable to a voting switch, and UKIP’s policies on immigration (bad) the European Union (very bad) have appeal even among as many as a hundred Conservative MPs. Labour has concerns that the popularist line is attractive to some proportion of its own working class constituency.
Most commentators share the view that the results do not translate easily to the next general election, which is two years away.
What might be happening?
An attack of UKIP votes as clowns may have strengthened the resolve of some voters, although in a dozen or so interviews I heard this was mentioned more as source of belated satisfaction rather than a vote-changer. What was more widely mentioned was the view communicated via the candidates that UKIP was the only party listening to the electorate.
Was it Nigel wot done it?
Nigel Farage , the leader I described as unconventional and ebullient, at very least seized the headlines during the last weeks of the campaign. His style is pure charisma, plausible, utterly convinced of the rightness of his opinions, appealing to his supporters. I suppose I should confess it is not a style that appeals to me, whatever I may think of the broadly social conservative position he presents. He rather blatantly chose to be filmed in pubs, pint in hand, a man of the people contrasting with the privileged class from which, he suggests, all his opponents come. His successful candidates repeated this view with equal conviction.
Did Nigel make a difference?
I suggest that he did, for better or for worse. It is hard to find another factor that converted general discontent into so many votes. Even that is not totally convincing, as in the same interviews I mentioned above, Farage did not figure as prominently as I expected
What happens next?
The downside of a charismatic leadership style is sometimes a tendency to espouse the common touch while losing it in private. The social scientist Chris Argyris distinguishes between espoused theories and theories in use. One disenchanted defector from UKIP suggests that this is already the case.
Mr Farage dismissed the defection of Marta Andreasen , a senior figure, in these typically robust terms
‘Having left the OECD, the European Commission and UKIP in unpleasant circumstances the Conservative Party deserve what is coming to them. The woman is impossible.’
One defector doth not a battle lose. But if this is a harbinger of what might happen, I expect to be writing more about Mr Farage and UKIP.