José Ruiz Vicioso, MA in the History of Political Thought, University of Exeter
The campaign of the European elections in the United Kingdom was marked by the opinion polls that showed UKIP –United Kingdom Independence Party– as the winning power (30%) with a great difference with the Conservative Party (22%) and slightly above of the 27% forecasted for the Labour Party (average percentages of the opinion polls published on May 8th and 9th, 2014. Source: http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/european-elections).
UKIP, whose identity feature is an open scepticism that can be defined as “Euro-refusal”, takes advantage of the British traditional ideological approach that considers European Union as an enormous bureaucracy remote from citizens and unable to be accountable before them –we remember the well-known Bruges speech by Margaret Thatcher–. Even following this approach, the main points of the UKIP have evolved. The party was created as a reaction to the Maastricht Treaty and as a support of the pound sterling; but immigration has recently become its central issue by claiming the exit from the European Union to regain the control of the borders.
UKIP was able to move the debate to its own territory and to focus the attention to an issue that, of course, raises the concern and the uncertainty of the most part of the citizens. Conservatives and Labour were influenced by the populist speech of Nigel Farage, whose abrupt public interventions have a great media impact.
It is known that European Union issue was the constant bone of contention in the Conservative Party. The Tories’ Eurosceptic sector is more and more unhappy and aware of the electoral threaten that UKIP represents, and many people blame the lukewarm position of David Cameron. The PM’s promise of renegotiate the EU’s conditions for membership and the hold of a referendum in 2017 could not stop the internal critics.
However, the increasing support of the UKIP does not come only from the traditionally conservatives electors which were disappointed by the coalition government, but also from the old Labour sympathizers seduced by the proposals of immigration control supported by UKIP. Therefore, the vote that comes from the working class. In this sense, it is a process similar to what is happening in France with the National Front of Marine Le Pen.
If opinion polls were confirmed, it would be the first time that the victory of the European elections does not belongs to one of the two main parties; fact that is very significant in a country that is considered as the paradigm of bipartisanship. Then David Cameron would face a complicated scenario. On the one hand, the Eurosceptics of his own party, that question him more and more, would have the perfect pretext to challenge their leader. On the other hand, his reasonable European position would be weakened before citizens, because they would have given the most of their support to a party which is radically against to continue to be part of the European Union.