Edinburgh Book Festival: Matthew Goodwin, "Where Now for UKIP", Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Matthew Goodwin and with Roy Cross in the chair.
Running time

Political scientist Matthew Goodwin introduced his book "UKIP" by explaining that the book really came about as a result of the growing Eurosceptic feeling in the country. In 2012/13 the party did well, particularly in southern England and got themselves into a position where they were running third in the polls. Unusually, they found that they were drawing in Labour voters and UKIP was seen to almost be more 'working class' than Labour itself. Indeed if one or two by-elections had gone the other way it might have been the end for Ed Miliband as Labour leader.

By 2015, with the defections from the Conservatives of Mark Reckless and Douglas Carswell, and their re-elections as UKIP MPs in by-elections in 2014, UKIP began to think that progress was being made. At the same time, the party began to see the first signs of clashes between Douglas Carswell, and Nigel Farage. There was strong interest in the party and support across the country reached about four million, which worried some of the larger and longer established parties. With their backing UKIP set the foundation for the Brexit campaign.

But there was one area, Scotland, which was strongly in the 'Remain' camp. The one visit that Nigel Farage made to try and spread the message of 'Leave' to Scotland ended in dismal failure when Farage was cornered in Edinburgh. He said that he would not be going back!

Again, the older voters were more supportive, perhaps because they had visions of the former British Empire, yet the younger voters seemed able to see 'the new order' and were voting to stay in the EU. Nigel Farage was still concerned that there was a gap in the core vote and this was the time when UKIP started to focus on immigration.

Immigration had been an issue since the single European market came into place on 1st January 1993. Initially, the aim of UKIP was to limit the power of the EU as then the effects of EU free movement began to be noticed. Some of the strongest 'Leave' support was in the south of England and on the east coast where the effects of immigration were more clearly felt. The new Prime Minister, Theresa May will have to deliver some form of free travel if the EU is to be kept on side, but this will present her with a dilemma as she has said that "Brexit means Brexit".

In spite of this, the Tories are in a strong position unless we change from 'first past the post' to proportional representation. The electoral forecasters at the London School of Economics (LSE) got it all spectacularly wrong with the last election and were all forecasting a hung Parliament. No one forecast a Conservative majority. Having lost Scotland, Labour needs a lead of twelve points to win, but at the moment they are twelve points behind. Owen Smith is against sixty percent of the Labour Constitution, but whoever leads the party, Labour would have to win back at least half of the areas it has lost, even so it would still probably lose. At the moment the Conservatives have the opportunity to put Labour back into opposition for a very long time.

The centre left needs to survive but how does it do this? Firstly, it needs a new leader and then it needs a strong shadow cabinet and then it should go after three groups: the blue collar workers, the urban materially comfortable, and then the new ethnic majority who are currently questioning their support of Labour. At present forecasters think that Theresa May will have a majority of between eighty to ninety. Scotland is lost to Labour and Wales is going that way. All that everyone can see would be a catastrophic loss if an election were to be held within a few months. What is sad is that a whole new generation of Labour politicians could walk away saying that there are easier ways to earn a salary than fight for a seat in Parliament.

But why did UKIP get zero in Scotland? Really the SNP are in control and they have filled any space that was left. The SNP were firmly for 'Remain' and this showed in the polls where not one area of Scotland voted by a majority for 'Brexit'.

Roy Cross asked what the National Front was like? There were similarities Goodwin agreed and these tended to focus on immigration, but there were a number of differences in policy with Marine Le Pen and actually UKIP is quite caring about the NHS. The recent appearance of Nigel Farage supporting Donald Trump in the American Presidential campaign was extraordinary. With Farage having said he would step down the last thing people expected was to see him on a stage with Donald Trump, however, he enjoys the limelight and being the centre of attention.

One has to ask is UKIP a political party or is it one man? It is certainly a strange organisation which has very few professional supporters who are experienced in campaigning. Goodwin said he was impressed by what was achieved by a very seemingly ramshackle organisation. He said that he saw only Chris Bruni-Lowe surrounded by a few helpers and not the rather high powered organisation that he expected.

Goodwin finished by saying that the academic group then offered their extensive research to all the political parties. Labour heard them through, but did not ask any questions, while the Conservatives gave the group a really tough time. From that moment on it was clear who would win the election!

UKIP: Inside the Campaign to Redraw the Map of British Politics (November 2015) by Matthew Goodwin is published by OUP Oxford.