The results of the 2015 General Election showed that UKIP in Wales is now challenging in seats where Labour traditionally dominated, and that it is well on course for electoral success at the 2016 Assembly election. It is also important to remember that at the 2014 European election, Labour only just topped the poll in Wales winning 28.7% of the vote with UKIP close behind at 28.1%.
The voting system for the Assembly election next year combines first past the post and proportional representation, which means that smaller parties like UKIP have a much better chance of electoral success that at Westminster contests. Take Caerphilly, a traditional Labour strong hold, yet in May 2015 UKIP’s Sam Gould won almost a fifth of the vote, its most improved result in Wales. With this surge replicated across other South Wales Valley seats and North Wales in particular, the way things stand, UKIP are on course to win up to 5 or 6 seats next May.
So what is it about UKIP that is attracting so many voters to its cause, dissatisfaction with the mainstream political parties or is it their policies that are striking a chord?
Originally UKIP were opposed to devolution in Wales, with former Welsh MEP John Bufton calling for the Assembly to be abolished. However its leader Nigel Farage later accepted that devolution was here to stay. Party strategists have worked hard at presenting the party as a clear and credible alternative to Labour and the Tories. The 2015 General Election, was largely fought on their anti Europe, ultra Thatcherite stance towards policies aimed at working class voters unhappy with immigration and disillusioned with the political system.
While the 2016 manifesto is still work in progress, UKIP insiders tell us that it will differ significantly from their 2011 manifesto, so what can we expect to see? Director of policy development former Conservative and UKIP MP Mark Reckless, has said that his Party aims to end the “cosy consensus” that has developed between the existing parties in Cardiff Bay since 1999.
A key theme of UKIPs 2015 manifesto was Britain’s membership of the EU. While people across the country will have the chance to have their say on whether we should remain a member at a future EU referendum, with communities across Wales relying on EU funding, whether it be through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) or EU funded key Welsh Labour initiatives like Flying Start, it will be interesting to see whether membership of the EU will feature as a major factor for voters at the Assembly election.
UKIP Leader Nigel Farage recently announced that one of its core policies is to be abolishing the Severn Bridge tolls in 2018. Standards of education featured highly in the 2015 General Election campaign, with the Party strongly favouring a move back to Grammar Schools. In terms of health policy, it is expected that direct elections for members of local health boards as well as making St David’s Day a bank holiday in Wales will feature in the 2016 manifesto. UKIP’s views on green energy are also well known. They argue that it only serves to make energy more expensive and the supply of energy less reliable. The 2015 manifesto stated that they would only support renewable energy where it can deliver energy competitively. It also set out their support for ‘fracking’ for shale gas and rejuvenating the coal industry, policies that are expected to receive a showing in the 2016 manifesto. We can also expect to see calls to keep council tax as low as possible, scrapping the cabinet system in local government and a return to weekly bin collections.
On the morning of May 8th, it will be interesting to see whether the surge of support for UKIP translates into seats and where on the Welsh political map, we will see the colour purple emerge.