Why does Nigel Farage keep on doing it? Whether it’s immigrants blocking up the M4, ostentatious breastfeeding or today’s controversy over scrapping race discrimination laws, the Ukip leader has a knack of making statements that outrage the political establishment. Sadiq Khan accused Farage of 'breathtaking ignorance' while Ed Miliband and David Cameron took to Twitter to express their disagreement with Farage.
.@David_Cameron The people the law doesn't protect are British workers, black or white. Disturbing, though unsurprising, that u don't care.
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) March 12, 2015
Farage's statement is not the usual fare we've come to expect from political leaders, at least to the metropolitan mindset. But this isn't just oddball rantings, Farage knows exactly what he is doing: hunting for those who have given up on voting. In speeches, Farage now enjoys boasting that many of Ukip’s supporters in May will be those who haven’t voted for 20 years or more. And many of these people aren’t particularly right-wing. According to YouGov’s analysis, Ukip voters are mostly older, white, working class and overwhelmingly think the world is changing into a worse place.
There is a helpful precedent for what Farage is trying to achieve: the Reagan Democrats. This was a group of voters, broadly white working-class voters from the north of America, who were traditionally supporters of the left-wing Democratic Party but switched to back Republican Ronald Reagan in the 1980 and 1984 presidential elections. Ironically, it was Ed Miliband's pollster Stan Greenberg who has studied this group at length. At his ill-fated speech to the CPAC conference this year, Farage urged the present day Republicans to bring back to these voters:
‘I accept that I’m a foreigner, and I don’t want to meddle. But if the Republican Party is going to win the next presidential election, I think the Republican Party needs to get the kind of people voting for it that were voting for it 30 years ago. Reagan Democrats — people that worked hard, people who were patriotic people, who aspired and wanted to get on. I don’t think, at the moment, the Republican Party is attracting those kinds of people.’
Reagan of course created a far broader coalition than Farage could ever hope for — and their views on immigration differ. Despite the significant strides Ukip is making among disaffected voters, the party is still essentially just targeting 20 per cent of the electorate. And there is probably 20 per cent of the country who share similar views on race discrimination laws. Yet this strategy could still turn Ukip into a significant political force. The party is presently polling around 10-15 per cent and it remains possible it will achieve a similar level of support in the general election. Throughout the party’s lifetime, its vote share from European elections to general has halved or less. Last May, it achieved 28 per cent of the vote:
If they retain anything above eight per cent in May, it could be devastating for the other parties. There are plenty of voices elsewhere looking for the British Regan Democrats — Rob Halfon in the Conservatives and Gloria de Piero in Labour for example. But it doesn't look as if either the Labour or Tory leaderships consider them a key demographic in their election plans. It’s too late to introduce policies or outreach efforts to appeal to these groups now, so their ears will continue to prick up whenever Nigel Farage speaks.