We're Still Waiting for an Electoral Breakthrough
The Corby by-election result was part of Ukip's continuing failure to gain significant traction when it matters most. If the party is planning on improving on their general election result in 2010, consistently exceptional results in by-elections is the key. To that end, they needed something a bit more than the relatively unspectacular result achieved in Corby on Thursday.
The party gained 14% of the vote, double the peak of their national polling averages. Yet it was not a breakthrough that many within their party expected and hoped for, and their performance did not succeed in becoming a part of the popular narrative emanating from Corby.
Just as Nigel Farage's attempts to oust John Bercow in Buckingham fell flat in 2010, despite much hype from his party, so claims from the Ukip camp they would snatch second place in Corby were unfounded. The lack of consistent success in polls viewed by the electorate as significant is notable. In the London mayoral vote, the most recent vote largely untarnished by protest voters willing to give the main parties a good kicking, any sign of a sustained Ukip advance was not on show. Despite some right-leaning media outlets claiming Ukip could challenge for third place they came a distant sixth, well behind the green and Independent candidate.
Ukip have a habit of getting a bit over-excited. Wise politicians know dampening expectations prior to results is the best way of producing an outcome viewed positively within the party, and in the eyes of the public. Few expected an 8000 majority for Labour in Corby - allowing the party to paint the result as a sign Ed Miliband's message might be gaining momentum. Farage and Ukip did the opposite; there was no significant breakthrough they had led many to expect. It was all a bit amateurish.
Without Farage, Ukip Would Flounder
A remarkable facet of UKIP campaigning is their mentality when it comes to gaining votes and winning seats, and their lack of a local presence vital for long-term organic party support. Their reliance on big billboards of Churchill and Farage at election time is notable - and while a membership base of 18,000 is improving - their candidates struggle from a lack of local presence and foot soldiers required to make sustained gains.
Despite the glamour of frequent BBC Question Time appearances, the sweat of the local campaigning trail, campaign rigour and a real noticeable presence by individual candidates still matters in UK politics. When Lord Pearson replaced Farage as leader briefly in 2009, the party lost a lot of their lustre and attraction. The lack of depth within Ukip's non-EU regulated talent pool is understandably small - symbolised by the presence of Neil Hamilton on their platform at their party conference, and the touting of Peter Stringfellow's public backing.
But there is a real long-term conundrum if Farage and Ukip are mutually synonymous and reliant upon each other. He neatly characterises the party's anti-politics, Daily Express editorial conservatism while covering for many of its extremist tendencies. Without Farage, Ukip's campaign would be weaker, and its message would fundamentally have to shift to encompass more thoroughly the views of its membership.
News of Their Impact Has Been Much Exaggerated
A key concern increasingly expressed within Tory circles is the effect an increase in Ukip's vote will have on marginally held seats at the next election, with figures such as Tim Montgomerie and Lord Ashcroft arguing it could be the difference between success and failure for Cameron in 2015. Professor Tim Bale, an eminent academic expert on the Conservative party, flitted between describing this as a "daft distraction": and "total crap".
At most, the direct impact in marginal constituencies, between Ukip defections and a Conservative majority, would come into play in only a handful of seats. For the Conservative party to focus on these small numbers of voters, rather than the danger posed by a potentially rejuvenated Labour party, would be very bad politics indeed.
Accorsing to Gideon Skinner, head of politicial research at ISPOS Mori, Cameron's Conservatives have lost votes across all ages, all demographics and on both the left and the right. Thus, he says '"Ukip's performance is something for the Conservatives to watch - but not obsess about". Any psephological expert will tell you that the key for Cameron to gain back as many voters as possible is not a movement to the right - but a movement away from the branding of his party as an omnishambles of economic incompetence and strategic error.
Cameron Was Right - But Some of Them Are More Than a Bit Bonkers
Research by Matthew Goodwin and Jocelyn Evans found that Ukip's support base and policies bore greater similarity to that of the BNP than it would like to admit. Cameron's remark that Ukip is essentially a party of "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly" may have rankled the party because it holds a credence and truth that is difficult to face up to.
Increasingly, Ukip support is driven by factors beyond euroscepticism. The dog whistle politics of an 'end to uncontrolled immigration', the expulsion of illegal immigrants and an end to 'multiculturalism and political correctness' encourages a radical working class wing of membership not reflective of the population at large.
Goodwin and Evans found over half of those affiliated with Ukip surveyed did not see any positive effect from diversity, and 85% disagreed with the claim that Islam does not pose a direct threat to the West. 34% of Ukip supportes believed that armed conflict may be necessary between groups to 'defend the national way of life'. It must be hoped that the demographic of support achievable through such a radical right agenda is declining, and the race for the disengaged proletarian vote an ultimately fruitless tussle.
Nigel Farage's Question Time appearances may arouse a few titters, even help gain a few supporters. Let's hope his impact is nothing more serious than that.