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Ukip has shaken the British political landscape, sending panic through the mainstream party leaders, but can the party’s youth wing, Young Independece, help remove the protest vote label to make Ukip a sustainable political party capable of holding the balance of power past the general election in May 2015?
Ukip (UK Independence Party) and their charismatic beer-swilling, anti-establishment, Eurosceptic leader and everybody’s best mate down the pub, despite previously being a public school educated banker (shhh!) Nigel Farage have uprooted the British political landscape over the past five years, sending political earthquakes, such as the EU election victory – where Ukip got 24 MEPs elected out of a possible 73 to represent Britain, more than any other – that have brought the mainstream parties back down to ground level.
The party was branded as being full of “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” by Prime Minister David Cameron in April 2006 and until recently have been considered just a ‘flash in the pan’, but with the general election only three months away, Mr Cameron and opposition leader Ed Miliband are genuinely worried that the vote on May 7th will no longer be a two-horse race, and Ukip could hold the balance of power.
To become a party that can survive and compete in general elections, Ukip will have to rely on more than the odd defection from the Conservatives to provide parliamentary talent – Conservative MPs Mark Reckless and Douglas Carswell both left the party to join Ukip; Labour are yet to lose an MP to Farage – so can their youth wing, Young Independence (YI) provide the solution?
Meet Zac Stanworth, a regional Chairman of YI, member of Ukip and one of the minority of young Britons engaging in politics.
Less than half of 18 to 25 year olds voted in the 2010 general election, but at 19 years of age, Zac is running a regional branch of YI, as well as campaigning to become a local councillor and working in his local Tesco.
“Really it was the only party making sense at the moment,” said Zac. “Originally my family and myself were incredibly hard-core Labour supporters, always have been.” Not quite a defection on the size of Mark Reckless or Douglas Carswell, but these are the people Ed Miliband needs to worry about losing, with the election result looking likely to be extremely close.
“A friend of mine, now an ex-member, got me involved, basically started introducing me to policies, for example the European Union, which is our prime policy.”
Other Ukip policies have been virtually non-existent as the Eurosceptic party has been riding on the anti-EU, anti-immigration sentiment that has grown in Europe since the financial crisis began in 2008 to get to third in the polls behind Labour and the Conservatives. In fact their lack of policies resulted in the resignation of their policy chief and YI member Tim Aker on January 20th for not completing the party’s election manifesto.
Zac hinted that his political ideology stemmed from former PM Margaret Thatcher. “We were hit very hard after Thatcher began closing down a lot of coal mines and selling off council estates,” said Zac, who was born in 1995 under John Major’s government. Margaret Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister in 1990.
“Myself and my immediate family were stuck in the B&B system for about five, six, seven years,” Zac added.
Zac admitted many people were shocked when they discovered he was a member of Ukip. “You go up to people and say ‘I’m from Ukip’, you’ve instantly got a basic, which was ‘Oh, you’re a racist, you’re a fascist, you’re this. Why would you want to be in a party like that?’ Etc. Etc.,” said Zac.
But despite the shock of seeing a young member of Ukip, which is often perceived as a party of older generation, ‘closet racist’ Tories angry at Cameron’s new style of conservatism, YI is growing rapidly. The youth wing hit 3,000 members in January and has reported an uptake in membership of 78% between March 2013 and January 2014.
“It’s fantastic to see the numbers keep going up and they’re only going one way. Long may it continue,” said 23-year-old YI National Chairman Jack Duffin.
“For years we’ve been the fastest growing youth wing from any party and I think the Greens have only overtaken us in the last six months,” said Jack. In October 2014, the Green Party reported a 100% surge in membership of their youth wing Young Greens since March 2014, hitting 4,000 members.
“When we’re up there and we’ve been leading for the past three, four years it shows positive signs for the party,” added Jack.
The youth vote will be particularly important in the 2015 election with polling as tight as it is. The polls are currently indicating Labour will be just short of enough votes to win the election, polling an average of 33% according to the UK Polling Report. David Cameron’s Conservatives hold 32%, while Ukip is third on 15%. The Lib Dems and the Green Party are averaging 8% and 7% respectively.
Prior to the 2010 general election, 30% of 18-25s were thought to have voted Lib Dem according to an Ipsos Mori poll, while an Opinion Panel Omnibus poll had the student vote at 48% which help them to form a coalition government.
But would Ukip follow in the footsteps of the Lib Dems, who were outsiders themselves prior to 2010, by forming a coalition government with Farage possibly as Britain’s deputy prime minister? If you listen to those in YI, probably not, but, unless the pollsters have got it seriously wrong, it will be the only way Farage will be getting inside 10 Downing Street.
“Next year there will be another coalition and Ukip is taking votes from every party, not just the Tories any more,” said YI Dorset Chairman Zac Stanworth.
“The best one I’ve heard is Nigel Farage saying that the only way Ukip will do a coalition with the Tories is if David Cameron resigns.
“Nothing has been set in stone. Nothing has been said officially,” added Zac.
YI National Chairman Jack Duffin seemed pretty sure, though, a Ukip coalition is off the table. “We’ve said we would never take part in a coalition, that’s not something we’re interested in.
“We’re happy to work with supply and demand, but not with coalitions,” said Jack. But if Farage was offered a deal, it would be hard for him to turn down the opportunity.
Whether Farage is in the cabinet room or not, Ukip are expected to have more than their current two MPs in Westminster after the election, with several members of YI standing. National chairman Jack Duffin will representing the party in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency. If that seat rings a bell, that’s because a certain Mr Boris Johnson will be fighting for the seat on behalf of the Conservatives.
“It’s going to be a difficult campaign running against a figure such as Boris Johnson… Obviously Boris has got his personality because he doesn’t have the policies,” said Jack, beginning the election trash talk.
“It’s about exposing Boris for what he is. People don’t want him because when they start looking behind the happy-go-lucky image they start seeing what he wants to do. People are terrified when you tell them what he actually wants to do.
“People didn’t mind him as the Mayor of London. He was a figurehead. He was their ‘someone with a personality’. The thought of him running the country in 10 Downing Street terrifies voters,” added Jack.
Mr Johnson was selected for the seat as it was seen a safe Conservative seat for him to reignite his parliamentary career – he served as MP for Henley from 2001 to 2008 – but the recent Heywood and Middleton by-election, where Ukip narrowly missed out on a victory, despite being a Labour safe seat, has raised the possibly that safe seats won’t apply in May.
“There’s no such thing as a safe seat any more, as we proved in Heywood and Middleton. Labour said ‘No, we’ve got it, nothing is going to happen and 617 votes was all that was in it, so it shows anything can happen,” said Jack.
YouthKIP has been unable to reach Mr Johnson for a response.
But Jack Duffin isn’t the only member of YI facing high level opposition. YI student chairman Joe Jenkins will be taking on Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in his Sheffield Hallam seat, which, polls are suggesting, Clegg could easily lose.
All of this hints that Ukip has a sustainable base in YI and they could hold the balance to power after May 7th, but is this success coming at the cost of Ukip’s anti-establishment values? On November 19th 2014, Zac Stanworth tweeted: “I fear the Ukip dream is fading, seems to be turning into a PC mainstream party to me.”
Zac defended the tweet saying: “They [Ukip] have started to discipline their members, especially what they’re saying online.
“Back then you could say whatever you wanted to say because pc [political correctness] was out of the window… That’s not there any more.”
YI Chairman Jack Duffin responded, saying: “Nobody is telling any MEP or figures in the party what to say. Our people actually speak from the heart and speak honestly.”