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UKIP in NI

Former Ulster Unionist David McNarry, expelled from his party for slightly obscure reasons back in May, has joined the UK Independence party. UKIP have 12 MEPs but McNarry is the first of their representatives in any UK-based elected parliamentary body. (They scored 0.6% in the last Northern Ireland Assembly election, 0.9% for the Scottish Parliament, but rather better for the Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru with 4.6% overall and missing a seat in North Wales by less than 2000 votes; they got 3.1% but no seats in the last Westminster election, and have three members in the House of Lords.)

I really think this is the most interesting thing to happen in Northern Ireland party politics since the demise of Robert McCartney and his similarly named UKUP. (Yes, I’m serious – much more interesting than the consolidation of DUP, SF and Alliance, or the slow decline of SDLP and UUP, let alone the dull saga of the Conservative linkup with the latter or the flash in the pan of the Traditional Unionist Voice.)

UKIP are on an electoral roll. In 2009 they came second in the Euro-election UK-wide without even registering as a blip on opinion polls at the time. Now they are within striking distance of double figures in the latest polls, and surely must have a good chance of catching first place in the 2014 European elections, from their votes England, Scotland and Wales.

I’d have thought that there is a decent prospect, though far from a certainty, that a UKIP candidate could take one of the two Unionist seats in the European Parliament in Northern Ireland in 2014. Unlike the Tories, UKIP come with no grounds for suspicion of their true intentions; their branding is pretty perfect for an appeal for a one-off protest vote to habitual Unionist voters. There are parallels with Jim Allister in 2009, but my gut feeling is that UKIP, with a good candidate who starts to establish himself or herself now, should actually do better.

(And before anyone asks – no, I still don’t see any chance of two Nationalists winning seats in 2014.)

I imagine it will be a Euro-election only performance, of course – at Westminster in 2015 UKIP will be nowhere, and at the next Assembly election they should just about manage to keep McNarry’s seat (if he contests it) in the volatile Strangford, with Reilly having a chance in South Down, for a total of one or two out of 108. But it's an interesting intervention in Northern Ireland's rather undynamic political architecture.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
ceemage
Oct. 7th, 2012 01:02 pm (UTC)
Will McNarry change his Assembly designation from Unionist to Other? If UKIP clearly position themselves as a cross-community party within the NI context, there are arguably Nationalist Eurosceptic votes (or, in the Euro Elections context, lower preferences) to be garnered.
pwilkinson
Oct. 7th, 2012 10:09 pm (UTC)
I would query a few of your assumption, not about Northern Irish politics but about the rest of Britain.

The first assumption is that events during the next twelve months or so don't cause the government to find itself committed to holding an effectively in/out referendum on the European Union - this is, I think, rather unlikely (on that timescale) but far from impossible. If this is the case, then I would expect the referendum date to be before June 2014, on the basis that an "In" vote would be likely to damage UKIP while an "Out" vote would be used to cancel the European elections in the UK.and avoid a rather nasty defeat for the government parties (and also on the basis that the uncertainty that holding European elections while a referendum was imminent would be likely to give a large extra boost to UKIP).

Leaving that aside and assuming (probably rightly) that the UK does take part in the 2014 European elections - one difference from the recent past will be that, with Labour will almost certainly in opposition, it is likely not only to be still doing fairly well in opinion polls but to perform rather closer to its general opinion poll rating than in recent European elections. Even after losing some votes to UKIP, other parties and abstention, I would still expect Labour to get 30% or so of the total vote.

Also, UKIP's support in Great Britain is somewhat uneven. In 2009, while it got over 16% of the vote in Great Britain as a whole, it got only just over 5% in Scotland and also did distinctly less well in London and Wales than in the rest of England. I would be very surprised to see UKIP significantly improving its position in Scotland in 2014, and would still expect to see them performing less well in Wales and London than in England outside London. So, to get 30% over Great Britain as a whole, UKIP would have to be getting 40% in at least some parts of the south of England outside London and the English Midlands. I don't quite see this happening - I can see UKIP coming a very good, even close, second to Labour but not first.

The final point to make is that if UKIP do get 30%, or even close to it, in 2014, I doubt that it will be just a blip. Undoubtedly, UKIP's vote will slip back substantially in 2015, but there will be a large number of constituencies in England where they are able to portray themselves as the main alternative to the incumbent party - a powerful consideration under first past the post. In most of them, they would not win, but I would be totally unsurprised, under those circumstances, to see them with 20 to 30 seats - quite possibly enough to make them the third largest party in the House of Commons.


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