Farage’s “big night” should worry the UKIP People’s Army

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At least on the surface, the results of last week’s elections look pretty good for Nigel Farage and his self-anointed “People’s Army”. It was, said Farage, a “big night” for his party.

For the first time in its history UKIP has representation in the devolved Welsh and London assemblies, winning seven and two seats respectively.

In the local elections UKIP also picked up nearly 60 councillors and solidified its presence in some of its existing heartlands, notably eastern areas like Thurrock (where UKIP finished joint first with the Conservatives) and Great Yarmouth, where its gains came mainly at the expense of Labour.

UKIP also continued to attract significant support in historic Labour bastions like Hartlepool, where across eleven wards the party won three and finished second in seven.

Alongside one MP in the Commons and 23 Members of the European Parliament, these results do hand the party staying power beyond the referendum.

But is it really all good news?

Were Farage to dig a little deeper, he would soon find worrying signs for a Eurosceptic party that should otherwise be booming in a year that will be defined by Britain’s EU referendum and a major refugee crisis.

Labour is in disarray, the Liberal Democrats are struggling to stage a comeback and public dissatisfaction with the incumbent Conservative government is on the rise.

Yet there is scant evidence that the anti-establishment UKIP is the main beneficiary.

At the two parliamentary by-elections that were also held last week (in Labour-held seats) UKIP made virtually no progress. In the Sheffield seat its share of the vote dropped by two points while in the other seat in south Wales it added just one point.

The party also failed to make hay from all-out elections in Rotherham while in other areas where it has been active, such as Dudley, the main stories were Conservative gains from Labour or, as in North East Lincolnshire, a breakthrough by the Liberal Democrats.

In places like Coventry it was a familiar story – UKIP finishing second in five of the eight wards that it contested but failing to break through. In North Tyneside, too, where UKIP has previously been strong, it failed to win any seats.

UKIP has clearly been distracted by the referendum, though a lack of money and manpower has also contributed to the party’s inability to invest in two campaigns simultaneously.

There appears to have been little internal progress since the 2015 general election.

Indeed there may well be bigger problems on the horizon.

Based on the local election results, UKIP took a projected 12 per cent share of the national vote – this puts the party behind the Liberal Democrats and is notably lower than its equivalent figures of 18 per cent in 2014 and 22 per cent in 2013.

This should worry Farage and his team, especially given the wider climate. As any Liberal Democrat will tell you, you don’t get anywhere in British politics with weak foundations.

Written by Professor Matthew Goodwin, senior fellow at The UK in a Changing Europe. This piece originally featured in The Times.

Disclaimer:
The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the UK in a Changing Europe initiative.

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