Close your eyes and imagine a young Ukip voter. Let me guess: mustard trousers, swivel eyes and foaming mouth, ranting furiously about the European Union, socialism, ‘lib-tards’ and so on.
Now meet Dayle Taylor, a young Ukipper working at McDonald’s in Accrington. He’s no fruitloop, just a typical modern student who grills Big Macs to pay his way through university and feels that none of the major parties speak for him. What distinguishes him from your average British youth is a lack of apathy about politics. ‘I’m always encouraging Ukippers at McDonald’s,’ he says, ‘and I build up a rapport with the regulars who say they haven’t voted before but will lend their support to Ukip on 22 May.’
Like many of Ukip’s newest recruits, Dayle comes from a working-class Labour family. He was firmly on their side as a boy, until he came to the conclusion that Labour had ‘deserted their core voters’. He turned to Ukip and has never looked back. He’s now a regional chairman of Young Independence, the party’s youth wing. Young Independence was founded seven years ago and is growing fast: it has some 2,000 members and 20 university branches. It represents about 5 per cent of Ukip’s overall membership.
At the party’s annual conference in 2007, a dozen young Kippers were thrown out of the conference and barred from a Telford hotel for drunkenness. Ukip apparently leaked the story because, according to one party source, ‘No one would believe we had young members.’ At last year’s conference hundreds of under-25s turned up to listen, cheer and grin for the TV cameras.
Young Ukippers tend to be more libertarian than their older brethren, and more libertine. Olly Neville, the second chair of YI, was thrown out of Ukip for being supportive of gay marriage (at odds with party policy) and asking in an article ‘What is wrong with necrophilia?’ Sean Howlett, one of the party’s rising stars, was caught by a Sunday Mirror exposé proclaiming he had been to Essex ‘twice in my life, twice too many’.
I asked Harry Aldridge, who founded Young Independence ten years ago, what first attracted him and his fellow young Kippers to join the party. ‘I felt national politics was a bit stale. Everyone was arguing over minor details and there are no big ideas anymore. The radical idealism of younger people draws them towards Ukip,’ he says.
According to YouGov, 13 per cent of those intending to vote Ukip at the European elections are aged 18 to 24 — two percentage points more than for the Green party. Jack Duffin, a 22-year-old student at Brunel University, is the current chair of Young Independence and recently stood to be Ukip’s first representative in the National Union of Students. At one time, Jack was a young Tory activist, but he lost the faith. His sticking point is not Cameron’s support for the same-sex marriage act, but Tony Blair’s higher education reforms. ‘The 50 per cent target [for university] destroyed everything,’ he says. ‘Apprenticeships dried up because so many people were told you’ve now got to go to university.’ As YI chair he is trying to head an awareness campaign for those under-25s left behind by the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems.
Michael Heaver, a 24-year-old candidate for the European Parliament, is another example of a no-nonsense young Kipper. Like Jack, he blames Labour for deserting his generation. ‘Labour have abandoned normal working-class people who have seen what’s been done [to Britain] particularly since Blair. For a lot of the young people, that was a major wake-up call.’
These young Ukip campaigners are probably the most normal, diverse and energetic youngsters I’ve encountered in politics. Some are caught up in the excitement and momentum that Ukip has generated in the past few years; others are now committed to the party, in it for the long haul. Unless the political parties can find an answer to these youthful ‘left-behinds’, the young Kippers are here to stay.