This article is from the May issue of Total Politics

Nigel Farage says YES

Ever since UKIP was founded, some have viewed it as an organisation for disgruntled Conservatives, in particular Home Counties Tories who vote for UKIP at European elections to send a message to the Tory Party hierarchy.

I’m sure there are some who do only vote for us at European elections, understanding that the ‘first past the post’ system used for Westminster elections makes breaking through very difficult. So, even though public opinion is increasingly on our side, there are still those who say we’re ‘splitting the vote’ or ‘letting the federalists in’.

But which vote would UKIP be splitting? The pro-EU social democrat vote, or that of the social democrats who insist the UK must stay in the EU?

If anyone poses a threat to the Conservatives, it’s David Cameron. His views are different from traditional grassroots Tories, and, after less than two years in power, he’s responsible for a growing list of broken promises. There was the promise to overturn the hunting ban, the pledge to reform the US-UK extradition treaty, the faux outrage at the Human Rights Act, and his three-line-whip to deny the British people a referendum. The latter was brought about through a public petition of over 100,000 signatures, yet Cameron was unmoved. Ignore that moment of eurosceptic posturing in December: it’s party policy not only to deny the British people a referendum, but also to refuse to even contemplate that Britain’s place is in the global economy, outside the constraints of the EU.

It’s not the coalition that has led to this state of affairs, although the Liberal Democrats are a convenient whipping boy for those wishing to hide the true beliefs of the upper echelons of the Conservative Party.

Tory manifesto pledges and commitments made during the campaign were just calculated moves to lure in an electorate desperate for an alternative to Labour.

Far from being a threat to the Conservative Party, UKIP is a threat to the entire political class. The party is the fastest-growing in Britain today, with people joining us from across the political spectrum. That growth is evident in national opinion polls, in election results, and in new membership figures. UKIP had its best results outside of the European elections in Barnsley last year, beating everyone bar Labour in one of their strongholds. Bradford West was another opportunity for the party to show that its policies are relevant, that it’s standing up and saying things people have been wanting their politicians to say for years. For those who still believe UKIP only draws support from disenfranchised Tories, it may have been a revelation that our Bradford West candidate was a former Green Party member.

Had it not been for the ‘veto that never was’, UKIP would have beaten the Lib Dems in the Feltham and Heston by-election. As it was, we were only narrowly beaten to third place in a constituency where we had no track record.

And, as we gather pace in the campaign for the London Assembly, UKIP is putting forward a list of professionals from the City and from various other professions, all of whom have one thing in common: they realise UKIP is the party of the future. It’s not a list of Tory defectors, but consists of people from across the political landscape who realise that, regardless of whether you vote Conservative, Labour or Lib Dem, you’re voting for the same thing.

UKIP is putting forward ideas for the kind of Britain we want to live in. It’s a Britain where we govern ourselves, where we trade with the world, a country where people aren’t allowed just to take from the welfare system, where the armed forces aren’t made to police the world while politicians cut their numbers and equipment, and where local decisions can be made by local people.

We’re reaching a turning point in UK politics; people realise that tough decisions need to be made in its economy and its best interests.

The old parties are running out of excuses for failure, and voters are starting to look to UKIP for the solutions.

Nigel Farage is the leader of UKIP and MEP for the South East Counties

Helen Grant says NO

For Wikipedia readers, my executive summary would be: no significant effect at the polls, but formerly a valid lobbying group on two important policy areas; immigration and Europe. I’d have to add a footnote. UKIP’s raison d’être on the latter has practically evaporated in the heat of the eurozone crisis.

My message to UKIP members and voters is that many of you are naturally aligned with Conservatives and would be welcomed back to the fold, where you may have more friends and influence. Upon returning to the Conservative Party last year, former UKIP chairman and deputy leader David Campbell Bannerman described UKIP as a “pressure group”, and said: “As a member [of UKIP] I witnessed too many colleagues obsess with single-issue politics, internal fighting, and shouting from the sidelines. This behaviour does nothing to serve the best interests of the British people.”

The stats alone quash any threat from UKIP, without the need for political rhetoric. After almost 20 years in existence, UKIP has failed to find popular currency and there’s nothing to suggest a change in trend. Its affable leader, Nigel Farage, entertains us on Question Time and offers extra flavour and variety at by-elections – but so does the Monster Raving Loony Party. At the last general election UKIP secured just 3.1 per cent of the vote. In the last election for London Mayor, UKIP’s candidate received less than 1 per cent of the vote, and in the London Assembly top-up list it only managed 1.9 per cent. The party came eighth – below the Greens, the BNP, the Christian People’s Alliance and Respect.

With a little research, it is not hard to understand UKIP’s lack of traction. In the European Parliament, UKIP members voted with Spanish and French MEPs when an attempt was launched to scrap the ‘Shetland Box’ (a protected fishing zone for British vessels). If successful, this would have allowed the vast Spanish fishing fleet access to a vital UK fishing ground. Conservative MEPs opposed this, actively protecting British interests. And when new EU legislation was seeking to improve protection for the names of regional produce, such as ‘Newcastle Brown Ale’ and ‘Stilton Cheese’, while the main British political parties supported this initiative, UKIP voted against the proposals.

UKIP abjectly has the wrong vision for Britain. It still wants us to leave the EU, failing to realise the benefits of our access to the world’s largest market. It accounts for half of the UK’s trade and foreign investments and provides around three-and-a-half million of our jobs.

On a point of agreement between UKIP and the Conservatives, persistent attempts by the EU to erode sovereign powers from our nation state continue to present a need for UK policy reform. ‘UKIP isolationism’ only serves to increase its irrelevance. On this essential issue, Cameron has already taken the initiative by introducing the ‘Referendum Lock’. Further, the PM vetoed the fiscal agreement at the EU summit last December, protecting us from additional obligations upon the UK relating to the eurozone crisis.

As a final nail in UKIP’s coffin, there is a strong Conservative backbench lobby with a rapidly developing modern agenda on reform for our part in the European project. Much impetus is being added from the new cohort of 2010, and they are effectively diluting UKIP out of the political equation.

Any future for UKIP? Nigel’s pressure group could attract more protest votes from Lib Dem supporters who are very unhappy being part of the coalition government. Or from Labour supporters who objected to signing up to the Lisbon Treaty (which took away 61 national vetoes), who are turned off by a lacklustre leadership, and who cannot forgive the recycled members of the shadow cabinet for putting our country in a dismal economic position.

Paradoxically, in marginal seats, it’s possible these protest votes could result in Conservative gains. I, for one, am not a subscriber to winning from negative actions. Much better, I feel, for our UKIP friends to return to the home of freedom, individualism and enterprise within a one-nation Conservative Party.

Helen Grant is the Conservative MP for Maidstone and The Weald

Tags: Conservative Party, European Union, Helen Grant, Issue 47, Nigel Farage, UKIP