In the 2010 general election, Nick Clegg’s performance in the three televised debates was widely credited for bringing the Lib Dems in “from the cold” after years in an electoral wilderness. If this was not a vindication of the huge popularity boost that public exposure has the potential to bring a party, I do not know what is. When considering the matter of UKIP’s potential participation in 2015, it is this issue that we should pay close attention to. Would it benefit the country for UKIP to be given that platform?
The character of the party is itself problematic. Whilst some will deny UKIP’s status as a single-issue party based on the party’s broad and somewhat fantastical gamut of policies, the facts suggest otherwise. When polled after the last election, 94% of supporters agreed that the party should have a policy platform “built around the core theme of withdrawing from the EU”. Outside of EU-related issues like immigration and parliamentary sovereignty, UKIP struggles to justify uncosted policies like a 31% flat tax which many argue would take from the poor to give to the rich. It argues for a “zero-tolerance” of crime, opposes multiculturalism and political correctness, and advocates the privatisation and franchising out of the NHS. Whilst one might argue that giving UKIP a platform upon which to debate these policies might be favourable in creating a debate, you only have to consider the post Clegg-Farage debate opinion polls to find, as I did, that in television debates the analytic strength of an argument can often receive less attention than the manner in which it is delivered.
Election debates are typically held to assist the public in making an informed choice when deciding who they wish to run the country. As we approach the European elections held on May 22nd, many have suggested that increasing public support for the party justifies inclusion in televised election debates before the General Election. However, a question remains over whether UKIP’s recent surge in the polls is due to the strength of its message, or whether it is simply collecting protest votes before the elections in May. A poll conducted by Populus a month ago showed that almost half of all current UKIP supporters will vote for a different party in 2015 and, of those that remain in the fold, 52 per cent will vote for the party even if they see it as a “wasted” vote. A combination of these two results suggests that only a fifth of current supporters will vote for UKIP based on their policies, with the rest voting to express their displeasure with the other parties. For me, this indicates the superficiality of UKIP’s popular support, and the argument that said support merits inclusion in the election debates quickly falls apart.
In 2009, a 16.6 per cent share of votes in the European elections translated to a modest 3.1 per cent of votes in the following 2010 general election. Seeing as the party is now polling around the same, it does not seem wrong to expect a similar outcome in 2015. For a “protest” party that lacks experience in government, the inclusion of UKIP in the debates would undoubtedly distract from debate on other important issues by candidates with a stronger democratic mandate, greater evidence of past support and better performance in government. It would be easy to justify the inclusion of a party offering a genuine alternative to the consensus existing between the three main parties in government. However, Nigel Farage does not lead that party. With an exit from the EU at the core of UKIP’s campaign, little attention has been paid to other areas of policy; many remain uncosted and appear badly thought through. Furthermore, with much of the party’s support composed of protest votes it is difficult to give justification on the grounds of popularity. Whilst a percentage do plan to vote in agreement with the party’s policies, that alone does not entitle Nigel Farage to receive the same treatment as David Cameron, Ed Miliband or even Nick Clegg come 2015.
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