I have had the opportunity to research UKIP for many years now, having firstly worked on the party in the mid-1990s.

In that time, I have witnessed its rise from a small group of dedicated campaigners, working solely on the issue of  getting the UK out of the EU, through its electoral break-through in the European Parliament elections in 1999, into its current phase of increased media profile and talk becoming a consolidated part of the party political system. The headlines of recent weeks (“UKIP ‘are third force in British politics’“, “Ukip deserves to ‘be taken seriously‘”) would seem to point towards that being so.

However, my long memory was stirred by this talk: we have been here before. Talk of a sea-change was common in 2004, following UKIP’s success in coming second (with help from Kilroy-Silk) in the EP elections. Thus the Mail said that “the spectacular success of UKIP in knocking the Lib Dems into fourth place, leaving Labour and the Tories with less than 50 per cent of the vote between them, has (for now at least) rewritten the electoral map. We are witnessing a great surge of protest from a public that has had enough.”  The Daily Star wrote about UKIP as “a major political force”, with (then campaign leader) Nigel Farage “boasting” that “UKIP is now unstoppable.”

A quick peek at the Google Trends data for searches on ”UKIP” highlights the reality: within months, Kilroy-Silk had been ejected from the party, which entered into a period of in-fighting, ultimately resulting in a dispiriting performance in the 2005 general election. With the exceptions of the elections in 2009 (EP) and 2010 (UK), UKIP has not secured a structural position in either the media or party politics.

Even the recent media interest does not (yet) represent a change to this, given that much of it can be associated with a concentration of specific events (the PCC elections, the Rotherham fostering story and the three November by-elections). Indeed, as the second graph shows, there has already been a significant down-turn in searches on the party from the initial spike in late November.

In short, I would return to the hypothesis I set out some years ago on the tensions that UKIP has to confront. On the one hand has been successful in exploting its initial niche as an (EU) protest party. On the other, it now suffers from a number of internal difficulties in moving beyond this niche.

Firstly, it lacks an ideological basis. The party is held together by little more than its dislike of the EU. A read of the 2010 manifesto reveals a collection of populist measures, only made possible by assumed (huge) savings from leaving the EU. As Farage himself is often heard to say, UKIP is not just the Tories with a ‘proper’ European policy, but a much broader church. This makes it much harder to generate a coherent and comprehensive programme of government.

Secondly, it lacks depth of resources. Both money and personnel are in short supply for the party. Even with the recent influx of members in recent weeks, membership is roughly 20,000, or roughly 30 per Commons constituency (thanks to Tim Bale for that observation), hardly enough to support either an extensive campaigning strategy (even if it could be afforded): the Green’s 2010 strategy of pouring everything into one constituency isn’t viable. Likewise, the party leadership has been dominated by the considerable figure of Farage (it’s hard to see who else would warrant a piece of the kind the BBC produced this week); only Kilroy-Silk make a similar impact and that did not end well.

Indeed, this points to the third weakness. With its very democratic structure of governance, it is open to individuals seeking to maximise their power and influence. This was discussed by Adebi and Lundberg in a very useful analysis: essentially, the number of posts exceeds the number of moderate (in terms of party policy) individuals, making it easy for those with more radical agendas to gain influence. UKIP has had three major ruptures over personnel and policy since its foundation in 1993, each of which nearly killed it off: even today, the party suffers from defections (e.g. Nikki Sinclaire) by senior figures.

The media like a good headline, and Farage undoubtedly provides good copy, but to present UKIP as the ‘third party’ is a vast over-extrapolation, both of the party and of voters. Just as 2004 didn’t translate into 2005, and 20090 didn’t translate in 2010, so I would expect UKIP’s performance in the 2015 general election to remain a pale imitation of their 2014 European elections performance, even if the latter does leave UKIP as the best represented party in the EP.

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Today’s abig day for us. This evening we have the official launch of CRonEM, our Centre for Research on the European Matrix, headed up by my next-door neighbour Prof Alex Warleigh-Lack. With Sir Stephen Wall and Richard Corbett discussing whether “the EU Has Passed its Sell-by Date?” at Europe House in London, we’ve had lots of interest, both in the event and the Centre.

CRoNEM is a new multidisciplinary research centre housed in the School of Politics at the University of Surrey. 

At CRonEM, we research European integration as a matrix of overlapping layers of governance, institutions and processes that shape how people of this continent live their lives and are governed, as well as how Europe engages the rest of the world. We understand the EU as a core part of this matrix, but not as a synonym for it.

CRonEM organises a series of research seminars, an annual conference and other events aimed at outreach beyond academia, particularly in the Surrey region. We also welcome proposals from visiting scholars with research interests that reflect our research agenda.

One of the things that I will be looking forward to with particular interest is next year’s conference, with its twin tracks of panels and workshops, allowing space for much fuller discussion of contributions, rather than the often hurried format of general conferences. I’m working with several colleagues in the UACES Collaborative Research Network on Euroscepticism to pull together ideas for the event and it’s looking very interesting indeed.

So while most of the country belatedly remembers that they didn’t vote in the PCC elections today, my colleagues and I will be debating the future of Europe and the quality of Europe House’s nibbles. We’ll be getting the better end of that deal, I believe, so if you’d like to join in CRonEM’s activities on some other occasion, then we’d be glad to talk with you.

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The results of last Sunday’s elections in Greece reveal not only the deep fragmentation of the political system in Greece but also a polarized electoral environment within Greek society. Clearly the outcome of the elections signals the willingness of the Greeks to remain within the Eurozone and within the European Union structures, but also sends a stronger message domestically to the political establishment that the period of single-party governments is long gone. The electorate desires cooperation at different levels not only to overcome the crisis but also to build a safer future within the European architecture. At the same time there is a strong momentum against the austerity measures that cannot be overlooked by the forthcoming government and this will pose a considerable threat to the reforms and the implementation of the required measures by the bailout agreement. This means that the new government will face strong opposition (even on the streets) and will have to seek a more general consensus but also, push forward an agenda of renegotiation of the memorandum with the Troika.
 
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Yesterday’s elections in Greece and France might be seen as a vindication of what little strategy European leaders have presented to date:  the former’s confirmation of New Democracy suggesting a desire to engage with the bailout agenda; the latter opening up the way for a new growth agenda.  No more big challenges until the German federal elections in late 2013 and the job’ll sort itself out.

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During a roundtable discussion on elections last night here at Surrey, I was asked what the impact would be of Hollande’s election on the existing European-level agreements on austerity.  After some metaphorical beating around the bush, I replied that I thought the impact would be marginal, akin to a child who gets some crayons and is allowed to draw a pretty picture while the grown-ups get on with the real business.

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As is often observed, a week is a long time in politics, and this has been a particularly long week.  From the EU’s perspective, the high points have been the re-election of the pro-EU government in Armenia and the failure yesterday of eurosceptics to get the hashtag #NotoEU trending on Twitter.  Not particularly glorious for such a symbolically important week.

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One week on from the Russian presidential election, the various media outlets have been alive with commentary focused on some key questions in relation to the conduct of the election and what it will mean for Putin. Was the election free and fair, is Putin really popular, will he serve his 6 year term or will he be ousted by the Opposition? There is much debate too about what the future holds for Russia, what we can expect from it in foreign policy terms and how the West should now act towards Russia. Some of the answers to these questions are easy and predictable. Others will prove to be far more complex and contentious.

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