2014 was the year that UKIP stopped being a sideshow and became the main event. They handily won the European elections, gained their first two elected MPs and troubled the counsels of the mighty in Labour and Tory HQs. Their rise to prominence has seemed, at times, unstoppable. When attention focused on the misdemeanours and ‘fruitcakery’ of local council candidates – as well as their far-right links – the party shrugged it off and claimed 161 new council seats. Ford and Goodwin begin by mapping UKIP’s journey from its anti-federalist league beginnings under Alan Sked, through its slow accretion of power in European politics over the last 20 years.
But it is the analysis of UKIP’s voters that makes Revolt on the Right required reading. UKIP is often portrayed in the media as a one-man band but the undoubted charisma of Nigel Farage, pint and fag in hand, is not a sufficient cause of their emergence into the mainstream. Ford and Goodwin point to UKIP’s support amongst ‘left-behind’ voters – those who are older, lower skilled, and who have had less educational advantages. As the main political parties turned their attention away from these voters to woo the burgeoning, well-educated centre, a void emerged that UKIP astutely filled. They have become the vessel for an unrepresented and angry mass of voters who feel no mainstream party speaks for them or to them.
This is a troubling conclusion for all party leaders. A new political force has emerged and it is angry. Angry with politicians who don’t look like them or sound like them. Far from being an extremist fringe that will hamper David Cameron’s re-election chances, UKIP has the disturbing potential to challenge Labour’s claim to be the party for the voiceless and the excluded.
Richard Speight is cabinet member for communities in Thurrock