White face, blue collar, grey hair: the ‘left behind’ voters only Ukip understands

Farage’s core voters are not EU-obsessed Tories, but working-class men. Labour cannot afford to ignore their real concerns.

For more than a century our politics has been dominated by three parties, thanks in no small part to a first-past-the-post system that stacks the deck against new challengers. Confronted with this almost insurmountable barrier, those who dream of remaking British politics often remain just that – dreamers. More than 400 challengers to the “big three” are registered with the electoral commission, and virtually all will sink without trace.

This is one reason why the rise of the UK Independence party is so remarkable. It is the most successful new party in a generation: the first since the Social Democratic party in the 1980s to attract double-digit support in national polling. In fact, Ukip’s revolt is more impressive as the SDP’s earlier challenge was orchestrated by people who already sat at the top table of British politics. Ukip has come from below; a genuine insurgency from outside the established party system. It might not yet have won a seat in Westminster, but it has attracted more than one voter in 10 and upended the agenda. This is an extraordinary achievement for a party that for much of its 20-year history has been comically disorganised, eccentric, and paralysed by infighting.

But Ukip is also remarkable because of the extent to which its support is misunderstood. Nigel Farage and his party, we are repeatedly told, are a byproduct of unresolved Conservative divisions over Europe; a second home for disgruntled Tories who are pushed into its arms by their anger at Brussels and hostility towards a Conservative prime minister who supports gay marriage and climate change. Ukip, in short, is a Tory problem.


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