Its members are traditionally thought of as old, white and out of touch with modern multicultural Britain, but the UK Independence Party is attracting an increasing amount of young and first-time v
Its members are traditionally thought of as old, white and out of touch with modern multicultural Britain, but the UK Independence Party is attracting an increasing amount of young and first-time voters. Young Independence, UKIP’s youth wing, has seen a significant surge in membership since the last general elections. But what is it that is making this ultra conservative party so attractive to young people? What has resulted in the fundamental shift in the party’s image?
UKIP has been marginalised by the press, the public and politicians in the past and has been labelled by David Cameron as a bunch of “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”. However, over the last year, UKIP has fought hard to find its way on to the mainstream political stage, culminating in a historic victory over the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in the Rotherham by-elections.
The party advocates withdrawal from the EU and tighter border controls to limit immigration in order to “restore self-government and democracy to the UK and boost the economy”. Looking at recent opinion polls and by-elections results, there appears to be an increasing appetite for populist, right wing and anti-EU political action among the youth in this country.
Olly Neville, former chairman of YI, outlines what he believes is behind the increase in young support for the party. “UKIP are now the only party advocating no tuition fees and bringing back grammar schools, education policies that resonate heavily with young people. The main rise in our membership is with people who are 14, 15 and 16 years old – people who become politically aware, look at the parties on offer and saying that its UKIP who offer the solutions to the problems they see every day.”
Dan Pollock, a 20-year-old student, has been a member of UKIP since 2008: “During college, I was branded a ‘racist’ and ‘extremist’ for supporting UKIP, while many fell into the hands of the Liberal Democrat’s propaganda policy on no rise in tuition fees. The three main parties are completely out of touch with the youth of Britain. Many young supporters are waking up and seeing that the main three offer nothing different and no solutions to our problems.”
Dan argues that UKIP’s popularity can be attributed to three key factors: “The first is the growing public disapproval of the EU. The second is the public’s frustration with the old three parties who offer out-dated policies. The third, and perhaps the most important, is that people are seeing that UKIP offers real solutions. It is essentially a people’s party”
Many argue that UKIP offers a haven for traditional Tory supporters, who feel that David Cameron is not anti-EU or conservative enough, particularly on divisive issues such as gay marriage. Several cases of politicians defecting from the Conservative Party have been reported, the most recent example, former Tory mayor Mark Hughes, who announced that: “I didn’t leave my party. My party left me.”
Dan agrees that “Cameron represents a shift in the Conservative party to more liberal policies whereas UKIP represent true conservatism. I think many young UKIP voters support us not only on our anti EU stance but on our sensible policies on immigration, housing and crime as well”. As well as UKIP’s conservative policies, the party’s charismatic leader Nigel Farage has been held responsible for the surge in young members. “Mr Farage has unquestionably got more young people – who may have even had no previous interest in politics – into supporting UKIP.”
While the withdrawal of the UK’s membership of the EU is at the heart of the UKIP manifesto and the party’s support, the continuing economic turmoil is playing nicely into their hands. Periods of economic hardship have historically shown to breed stronger support for right-wing, populist parties. UKIP has only just begun to harness this support, especially among the youth, who are among those hardest hit. Farage stated at a party conference that “the political establishment is just going to have to wake up to the fact that UKIP is here and here to stay as a significant and rising mainstream part of British politics.”