UKIP members are gathering for their annual conference in Birmingham today and frustratingly for the party, it remains a niche political event. Unlike the media explosion for the other three political gatherings, UKIP’s two day rally will have no wall-to-wall TV coverage and little in-depth analysis of the speeches.
But since Nigel Farage gathered his flock last year, Britain’s other party has seen its profile raised substantially. Martin Kettle admitted in the Guardian this week that UKIP are now a ‘force to be reckoned with’ who could become kingmakers that will ‘shape the 2015 election and the politics of Britain and Europe for a generation’.
Polling suggests they are indeed a significant political force. Looking at Ipsos MORI voting trackers, UKIP potential share of the vote has risen steadily over the past year and occasionally challenged the Lib Dems for third place. You can highlight an area on the chart below to zoom in on how their vote share has changed:
The major benefactor to UKIP rise in popularity has undoubtably been the Prime Minister. David Cameron’s decision to keep the Tories firmly in the political centre ground, while batting off discussions on immigration and EU membership, has continued to frustrate the more right wing party members and supporters. Dissatisfied Tories have found a natural home with Farage and if they continue to build in numbers, the strength of UKIP threatens to split the Tory party, especially if an EU referendum becomes a reality. Paul Goodman examined the possibility in the Telegraph this week:
‘The Ukip leader evidently hopes that similar co-operation during another [EU membership] referendum would bring a similar outcome – that a No vote and Tory splits would divide the Cameroon leadership of the party from its base. Mr Farage is trying to wean his party off the EU issue alone, woo traditional Tory voters and park his guerrilla army on Mr Cameron’s lawn.