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UKIP poised for success as radical right party

18 Jan 2011

Ahead of the upcoming local elections, experts are warning that the UK Independence Party (UKIP) looks set to become a successful radical right party and a ‘significant vehicle’ for Islamophobia, similar to those seen in countries like Austria, France and Italy.

“Our research shows that Euroscepticism is not the whole story where UKIP is concerned,” write Dr Robert Ford from The University Manchester and  Dr Matthew Goodwin from The University of Nottingham.

“There’s no doubt the party’s position on Europe is a big factor, but their supporters are increasingly concerned with attitudes more typically associated with the British National Party (BNP).

“Like far right voters, those who vote UKIP are dissatisfied with the mainstream parties and hostile toward immigration.”

The research is the first of its kind to analyse and understand the attitudes and motives of UKIP supporters. At the 2010 general election, UKIP called for an immediate halt on immigration, the ending of multicultural policies and a ban on the niqab and burqa in certain buildings. Its leader, Nigel Farage, has since given a “cautious welcome” to emulation of his party by the French National Front (FN), one of the most successful radical right parties in Europe.

“Our analysis shows while UKIP does mop up ‘defectors’ from the Tories - upper and middle class voters who largely follow UKIP to lodge their feelings on Europe at European Parliament elections - its appeal in domestic elections is rather different”, said Dr Ford, who is the lead author.

He added: “In domestic elections like Oldham East, UKIP tends to do best among disaffected working class voters, who find UKIP’s populist attacks on immigrants, Muslims and the political establishment attractive. UKIP appeals to the same kind of voters as the BNP, but may be able to recruit a broader and more sustainable vote base – UKIP won three times as many voters as the BNP in the last general election.

“While many voters who agree with the BNP’s political messages, they are turned off by its violent and fascist reputation. UKIP suffers no such legitimacy problems. It is in a position to not only recruit a much broader base of BNP support, but a much more sustainable base.”

The research also shows that due, in part, to its more moderate reputation, UKIP has succeeded in securing the votes of important groups like women, who have traditionally rejected the BNP because of its perceived extremism.

“Until now, getting to grips with UKIP has been extremely difficult due to an absence of any real systematic research,” Dr Goodwin adds. “This is why the party remains something of a puzzle to many.”

The paper; Strategic Eurosceptics and Polite Xenophobes: support for the UK Independence Party in the 2009 European Parliament Elections, looks at data gathered from the YouGov online panel in the week prior to the European Parliament Election, and is also authored by Dr David Cutts at the University of Manchester.

Amongst other methods, the researchers compared the views of more than 4,306 UKIP in a group of 34,000 randomly interviewed in the 2001 census. It builds on their previous pioneering studies of BNP voters.

Dr Ford added: “Ultimately our research backs up assertions that UKIP, unlike the BNP, are thought of as a legitimate force in British politics, with access to mainstream media and political elites. Voters who shun the BNP are willing to listen to the same messages when they come from UKIP. UKIP may therefore function as a “polite alternative” for voters worried about immigration and Islam, but repelled by the BNP’s public image.”