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Five Years Is a Very Long Time in Politics: Ukip's Progress

17/04/2015 12:45 BST | Updated 17/06/2015 10:59 BST

"I assure Ukip voters and supporters that, although we have lost the battle, the war carries on"

The words of Dave Fowler, Nigel Farage's election agent, speaking directly after the 2010 General Election. Mr Fowler was speaking in the wake of the party registering 900,000 votes , some 3% of the total. An improvement on 2005, but some way short of a breakthrough. Ukip's place on the political map at that time is perhaps best illustrated by the big story being Mr Farage's light aircraft crash as he tried (unsuccessfully) to unseat Commons Speaker John Bercow in Buckingham.

It's worth going back to this point just to remind ourselves of what really has been a remarkable period of progress. Less than a year ago, Ukip "won" the popular vote at the European Elections, and it is consistently registering more than 10% support in this month's election opinion polls. They have done well in by-elections too - not just in the two constituencies where sitting Conservatives crossed the floor - but in places like Heywood and Middleton when they nearly took the seat from Labour. The party has now been officially recognised by Ofcom as a "major party", and pollsters like Ipsos MORI have duly added Nigel Farage and Ukip questions to our regular monthly surveys.

Of course, with promotion to big party status brings come challenges, particularly when it comes to a General Election. This is the "Champions League" of elections, as opposed to the "League Cup" vibe of the European or local elections. An election where 2 in 3, rather than 1 in 3, will vote. And an election where Ukip cannot bask in the spotlight of being the story. They are now just one of many stories.

One of the challenges of achieving political maturity is that just about everyone now has a view on Nigel Farage and Ukip. The first time we included the Ukip leader in our monthly satisfaction ratings, in March 2013, some 61% felt able to express a view on whether they were satisfied or dissatisfied with his performance. Now that figure stands at 86%.

And, as Ed Miliband has also found, familiarity does not necessarily breed favourability. That first rating of Nigel Farage two years ago saw him record a positive score overall: 35% satisfied and 26% dissatisfied. Today, those figures stand at 30% satisfied and 56% dissatisfied - which puts him in the same negative territory as those experienced by Nick Clegg. The British public have now formed a view on the Party as well: while 25% say they "like" Ukip; 64% say they "dislike" them.

So it is not all plain sailing for Ukip. Expectations of "what good looks like" on 7 May are so much higher. It takes time to become skilled at running local campaigns on the ground. There are questions about whether the Party has strength in depth, both nationally and locally.

But - to return to where we started - just look at how far Ukip has come. Leaving aside all our polling numbers, perhaps their biggest success has been in getting immigration to the top of the political agenda. Would The Labour Party have made Controls on Immigration their fourth election pledge had Ukip remained in the political wilderness? It seems unlikely.