How UKIP is tempting the grassroots Tories to defect

David Cameron, PM

Nigel Farage, UKIP leader

Disaffection with David Cameron is one of the factors that’s causing a third of Conservative Party members to consider  voting for the UK Independence Party at the upcoming European elections, according to a report co-authored by University of Sussex researchers.

The study, carried out by Sussex Professor of Politics Paul Webb together with a colleague at Queen Mary University of London, found that while polices on immigration and the EU were significant issues for voters and Tory party members in deciding allegiance, what was causing  them greater concern was the feeling that Cameron was ideologically remote from them.

If UKIP manages to double the 3.1 per cent vote share it achieved in 2010, then the Conservatives - one of the world’s oldest, and most successful, political parties – are going to find it very difficult to win a majority in 2015.

The study, published in the journal Political Studies (29 April), found that those grassroots Tories most tempted by UKIP actually lean a little more to the left than many of their fellow members when it comes to the economy and public services. Culturally and socially, though, they are significantly more conservative.

Members defecting to UKIP – even those voting for, rather than joining the party – pose a strategic problem for the Tories on two fronts, says Professor Webb.

‘”Any such defections may end up diminishing the organisational resources available in the form of membership dues left to lapse or reduced willingness to get out and about in order to mobilise less committed supporters in the electorate.

“And if voting for another party leads some members actually to join the other party, this may provide challenger parties with a stream of experienced activists who will boost their already highly effective insurgent campaigns.”

He adds that it would be strategically awkward for the Conservatives to try to keep  voters and members on board through matching the offers made by the popular radical right on issues such as immigration and access to higher education as this may alienate  the “well-heeled, well-educated, socially liberal voters who are a key component of the centre-right's electoral support”.

He says it is also the case that the populist radical right, as long as it remains in opposition rather than government, can always respond to any matching of its offer by simply ‘upping the ante’. 

“That might not worry some ordinary members of the Conservative Party and their equivalents in other countries, but it might cause problems for a leadership with ambitions to win and hold onto national office.”

Notes for editors





By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Wednesday, 30 April 2014