The threat Ukip poses to a Conservative victory in 2015 is widely recognised, less so the damage it could cause Labour. If recent revelations regarding Ukip's electoral strategy are to be taken seriously, the threat to Labour could be equally as potent.
In a recent interview with the BBC Sunday Politics Show Ukip's director of communications Patrick O'Flynn admitted his party have "probably maxed out the Tory vote that we are going to get. Our potential for growth now is blue collar, disenfranchised former Labour voters and more and more of them are coming to UKIP."
Reflecting on Patrick's comments and the likely success of such a strategy, deputy political editor at the Times, Sam Coates noted "I'm not sure if red Ukip (Which put benefit protection at its heart), sits to comfortably with their insurgent anti state message."
In assessing if red Ukip poses a creditable threat to Labour, it is critical to understand more about what makes Ukip voters and its party members tick. Dr Rob Ford from Manchester University has analysed the views of 5,000 Ukip voters for his new book Revolt on the Right which could confound perceived wisdom about the party. In a recent BBC interview he said "The common image of the average Ukip voter is a ruddy faced, golf club member from the south east of England, very, very angry about the European Union and probably a traditional Conservative voter. Now many Ukip activists do resemble that stereotype to some extent, they do pick up a lot of activists from the Conservative Party. But the Ukip voters are very distinct to that, they are older, more working class, there are more likely to live in northern, urban areas than southern rural areas and they are much more anti system than anti EU."
If Ford's analysis of Ukip voters is right, it strongly suggests the need for Labour to take the threat of Ukip as seriously as election strategists at Conservative Party HQ.
The appointment of ex Daily Express senior columnist Patrick O'Flynn is a significant development as Ukip looks to establish itself as an insurgence, alternative party ahead of the local and European elections in May. Furthermore, the drafting in of O'Flynn signals an acknowledgement from the party's high command (Farage) that internal party discipline and its communication with voters needs a sharper edge, if they are to cut through to mainstream voters and peel them away from the three main political parties.
The unusual step taken by Ukip to put up Patrick as its broadcast spokesperson flies in the face of conventional wisdom that spinners should stay in the shadows behind the scenes. Responding to Patrick's comment, the Telegraph's political commentator Ian Martin stated "I think it interesting the way Patrick answered the question (about political strategy), he answered it in the way you'd expect a political commentator to, rather than in the way you'd expect a Head of Communication for a political party to, and he might be regretting that."
Coming second in the recent Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election in Manchester having picked up 17.9% share of the vote has bolstered Ukip's confidence. To make future electoral advances UKIP must win over voters from across the political spectrum, hence their targeted pursuit of Labour voters.
We have yet to see if there is a strand of 'red' Ukip which has the broad appeal required to significantly dent Labour's core vote. The coming months and results of the Euro and local election will reveal if Ukip are a real threat to the chances of both a Conservative or Labour majority in 2015.Suggest a correction