General Election 2015

A disappointing General Election for UKIP – but Nigel Farage’s party won’t go away

If David Cameron can’t get a deal on Europe, the Eurosceptics will look to Nigel Farage once more

Nigel Farage

Nigel Farage Photo: Paul Grover
 By Matthew Goodwin

12:16PM BST 09 May 2015

There’s no doubting it: the general election went badly for Ukip. Thursday evening started with hopes of winning a handful of seats, but quickly dissolved into a night of despair. It is a familiar story in British politics – a tale about a revolt against the established political class that falls at the last hurdle. From one target seat to the next – places like Castle Point, Boston and Skegness, Rochester and Strood, and Thurrock – Ukip failed to overthrow Conservative incumbents. This was even true in Thanet South, where Nigel Farage lost by almost 3,000 votes. He resigned soon after. With Mark Reckless gone, only Douglas Carswell remains in the House of Commons – and even his majority was slashed by 9,000 votes.

This leaves Ukip faced with an uncomfortable truth. It has never won a single seat outside of by-elections and where there has been no mainstream defector. And worryingly for the party, some of its most talented campaigners – the people who pushed and kicked the organisation towards a basic level of professionalism – are already talking about moving on.

In the end, and while its share of the national vote held steady, Ukip looks to have been squeezed by three factors: English fears over the prospect of a Labour-SNP alliance, which seems to have had a particularly strong effect on Conservative voters who might otherwise have defected; a clear desire among most Ukip voters to have David Cameron rather than Ed Miliband in Number 10; and Britain’s first-past-the-post system, which as it has done for more than a century quietly urged voters to put their head before their heart.

As is routine in the aftermath of war, the defeated will be written off and denounced as a lost cause. But even Conservative Party strategists know that they will need to tread carefully. Ukip did not win seats but it has still delivered the best performance by a new independent party in post-war English politics. It won support from more than one in 10 voters, taking 12.6 per cent across the country and 14 per cent in England. It also seems to have a different impact in different regions; in the South West, Ukip appears to have attracted protesters, and played a role in the collapse of the Liberal Democrats; in southern England, it appears to have propped up Conservatives; in some parts of northern England, it has replaced the Tories as the second political force.

The irony is that Farage appears to be leaving just at the moment when two factors underline his continued relevance in British politics. And this is why I do not think that he will leave – that after a summer of rest Farage will be back. First, often without trying, Ukip finished second in more than 120 seats and has laid the foundation for something far more significant. It won at least 20 per cent in 45 seats. Many of these are in the financially struggling, left-behind Labour territory that my co-author Robet Ford and I pointed to in our book last year, Revolt on the Right. We were ridiculed at the time but just look at the results.

Ukip won at least 28 per cent in Labour bastions like Hartlepool in the North East, Rother Valley and Rotherham in Yorkshire, and Jon Cruddas’s seat of Dagenham and Rainham in outer London. It also took at least 18 per cent in the Welsh seats of Islwyn, Caerphilly and Merthyr Tydfil, where there are big elections next year. Entrenched in many of these areas is a sense of national loss, threat and abandonment – or what the French call “cultural insecurity”. It is a language that is wholly at odds with the vernacular of people like Chuka Umunna, Tristram Hunt, and Yvette Cooper. That the election crystallised Ukip’s ability to appeal to voters in Labour areas is underlined by analysis of the results by the University of Oxford’s Stephen Fisher: “The rise of Ukip that was expected to disproportionately hurt the Tories, in fact seems to have undermined the Labour performance more.” The message is clear: Ukip stalled Labour’s comeback. Its voters seem to have returned to Cameron in the south while giving Labour a kicking in the north.

A second reason why Farage is likely to return is that he is having to exit the stage at the moment when everything that he ever wanted is about to arrive. The referendum on Britain’s EU membership now looks certain. This would bring a new moment of opportunity for the Eurosceptic camp. Despite the scale of his victory, Cameron should be reminded that he is not a popular figure among Eurosceptics and social conservatives. That they gave him their vote at a general election does not mean that they will stay well-behaved. Cameron would be well advised to use the early months of his new term to reach out to his reluctant voters and backbench MPs to ease tension before the real battle begins. And when that does begin, my money is on Farage being back as a prominent figure in the landscape of British politics.

Matthew Goodwin is the co-author of Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain (Routledge) 

Ukip improved their performance across vast swathes of England while in Scotland the SNP were the clear winners as the biggest party swings in each constituency clearly shows.


General Election 2015..WikipediaNottingham North
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labour Graham Allen 19,283 54.6 +6.0
Conservative Louise Burfitt-Dons 7,423 21.0 -3.8
UKIP Stephen Crosby 6,542 18.5 +14.6
Green Katharina Boettge 1,088 3.1 +3.1
Liberal Democrat Tony Sutton 847 2.4 -14.7
TUSC Cathy Meadows 160 0.5 +0.5
Majority 11,860 33.6  


Turnout 34,285 53.6 -0.6
Labour hold Swing
This entry was posted in Article. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.