Despite what party spinners will tell you, Cameron, Clegg and Miliband will all have woken up on the 26th May in the aftermath of the European Elections with a UKIP sized headache. Cameron had led his party to the first 3rd place finish in its history, Miliband took Labour to the first opposition since 1984 to fail to win a European election and Clegg led the Lib Dems to near wipe-out at the ballot box. Farage, meanwhile, was poring over the data from a stunning UKIP victory and plotting the seats that could carry his party from an agenda setting protest vote into a genuine force in British politics. Much of how well UKIP do next year will depend on the way they use this data and target favourable seats for a Westminster breakthrough.
Rennard or Bust
One of the criticisms Farage has had to contend with is UKIP’s lack of targeting, which spreads their vote too thinly and see them finish 2nd in too many seats without making the breakthroughs their vote share suggests they should. In Wolverhampton, for example, UKIP finished 2nd in 15 out of 20 council seats but won just one councillor and this story is true across much of the country. Farage spoke of learning the lessons from Paddy Ashdown and the relentless targeting of the Liberal Democrats that saw them win 20 seats in 1992 with 17.5% of the vote. There is a more recent precedent as the Greens used the data from local council elections prior to the 2010 General Election and threw all their campaigning might at Brighton Pavilion and won their first MP in Westminster. This is the blueprint UKIP must follow if they are to make any breakthrough next year. Part of the reason that UKIP achieved so much success this May was the broadening of their appeal and winning votes among groups they have previously struggled with. The myth about UKIP only mopping up the disenchanted Conservative vote has been debunked and YouGov data from earlier this year sheds light on the groups most favourable to lending UKIP their X on Election Day.
Immigration, Immigration, Immigration
UKIP were swept to victory in the European Elections on the back of winning support from older, working class men with lower educational qualifications and it will be these voters they need to convert to win in 2015. Whilst it is certainly true that disapproval of the EU is a key feature of UKIP voters, concern over immigration is by far the greatest driver of UKIP support and saw them pick up huge votes in Labour heartlands where voters feel left behind and distrust the three main parties to fix the problems they see in their lives. The challenge facing UKIP next year is a huge one; at the 2009 European Parliament Elections, they won 17% of the vote and dropped back to 3% at the General Election the following year. To avoid a similar collapse, UKIP will need to learn the lessons of targeting voters and ensure they offer not just disaffected Tories but traditional Labour voters a choice at the next election. Only by doing this can UKIP make the breakthrough necessary to be considered a real, and permanent, force in British politics.