Nigel Farage kicked off UKIP’s general election campaign with his first major speech of the year. High on rhetoric, low in substance, the content was still nonetheless revealing. Farage told the crowd gathered in Essex that UKIP was the only “truly national political party”. At quick glance such a statement is easy to dismiss as ‘typical Nigel’: The party only has two MPs, both located in the South East. However, this does not mean Farage’s argument does not have grounding.
His argument that UKIP is the only truly national political party is based on two premises. The first is that UKIP can no longer be regarded as a party of the Home Counties and of disgruntled Conservatives. True, polls still show more support for the party comes from former Conservative voters, but UKIP has taken massive strides up the M6 and all the way into Scotland over the last 12 months. Farage happily took on Alex Salmond’s challenge of gaining a foothold in Scotland in the European Parliamentary elections and won.
In addition, Cicero Elections has been tracking the performance of UKIP in local council by-elections across the top 40 marginal seats for the last 18 months through the real votes tracker. The results are notable – 22 per cent in Carlisle last September, 16 per cent in Sherwood around the same time, and 15 per cent in Telford at the end of October. Then there was UKIP’s impressive performance in the Heywood and Middleton by-election in October, losing to Labour by only 617 votes. This is what Farage means by a national party.
The second premise is that no other party can command a high level of support in a nationwide context. He argued Labour is a regional party for the North (excluding Scotland), while the Conservatives are a party only for the South. It’s hard to argue with his analysis on these points; the failure of both the main parties to make significant inroads into their rivals territory is one the key reasons we face the prospect of another hung parliament.
As a result, both main parties are running ‘core vote’ strategies, with policies designed to win back existing disenchanted voters in these traditional bedrock areas. Additionally, the Lib Dems are readying themselves for an intense ground war, especially in the South West, and the SNP and Plaid Cymru champion for greater powers to be devolved away from Westminster.
It is not hard to understand the rationale behind UKIP’s new campaign slogan, “Believe in Britain”, arguing the party believes in “the whole of Britain”. Part of Farage’s allure has always been his ability to talk up his party’s chances, and in the past this has served him well on occasion. Of course the other major parties will dismiss Farage’s comments, pointing out their respective national plans, whether it be a ‘Long Term Economic Plan’ or a ‘Stronger Economy and a Fairer Society’. This speech was about contrasting the other parties’ regionalist focus against UKIP’s appeal to the everyman.
Farage said the campaign to date has been “boring”. This speech was designed to highlight the faults of the established parties and cast UKIP as the genuine alternative. Farage is hoping the people’s army believe in Britain.