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Nigel Farage with UKIP’s election pledge card: They nearly left out the first item (©Peter MacDiarmid/Getty Images)


Shortly before the general election last May, UKIP gathered reporters in Westminster’s Smith Square. Nigel Farage was there to launch the party’s short campaign — the final straight of British electoral politics — by unveiling a pledge card, featuring five core promises that would define the party’s pitch to the electorate.

Settling on these policies had involved much behind-the-scenes wrangling. Should they mention the NHS? Was foreign aid a prominent enough issue to include? The various questions were answered and everyone was happy for the cards to be printed — until, at the last minute, it was pointed out by one member of the UKIP team that they had omitted the party’s founding policy and historic raison d’être: to leave the European Union. The mistake was quietly fixed and “Say NO to the EU” would appear at the top of the list of promises.

The near-miss was a revealing blunder that demonstrated the metamorphosis of UKIP from a band of ex-Tory Eurobores — focused on Britain’s relationship with Brussels to the exclusion of all else, including electoral success — to a political force that sweeps up a much wider range of discontents from a much wider range of people.

Matthew Goodwin and Caitlin Milazzo, both political scientists at the University of Nottingham, have captured that transformation definitively in UKIP: Inside the Campaign to Redraw the Map of British Politics. This is the second book in as many years that Goodwin has co-authored on the party. The first, Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain (Routledge), written with Robert Ford, was an admirably cool-headed look at the rise of UKIP. It won praise for its thesis — at the time seen as rather outlandish but largely borne out in subsequent events — that UKIP was as much of a threat to the Labour party as it was to the Conservatives. Goodwin and Ford produced a list of the demographically most UKIP-friendly constituencies in the country; nine of the top ten were Labour-held.

With Milazzo, Goodwin has taken this analysis of who votes UKIP deeper, and updated the story to include the turbulent 18 months that took the party from finishing first in the European elections in 2014 to the general election of the following year, its aftermath — including Nigel Farage’s fantastically supple un-resignation — and the beginning of the referendum campaign.

Some UKIP voters certainly fit David Cameron’s 2006 characterisation of the party as “fruitcakes, loons and closet racists”. Uncomfortable though it may be for the party leadership, it is undeniably the case that UKIP’s rise has been aided by a collapse of racist far-Right parties like the BNP. But whatever one thinks of UKIP’s platform, it is simply inaccurate to caricature the party as National Front-lite. The authors of this study rightly identify UKIP’s core vote as “left-behind Britain”. It is overwhelmingly white, poor and old. Their supporters are victims of globalisation, struggling to find their place in post-industrial Britain and alienated by large-scale immigration.

According to Goodwin and Milazzo, such voters no longer feel at home in the two main parties because demographic change means it is middle-class rather than working-class voters who decide elections today. As a result, a socially conservative strain of working-class politics no longer finds sufficient expression in mainstream politics.

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