Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Ukip: last man standing?

When Ukip won 2.7 million votes it vowed to become the third force in British politics. Ben Russell on a party in meltdown

What a difference five years make. The morning after the previous European elections, the UK Independence Party (Ukip) was emerging as a significant force, the third-biggest British political troop in Europe.

The television chatshow host Robert Kilroy-Silk had helped propel the party to 2.7 million votes – 16 per cent of the poll. Twelve European Parliament seats (and the very mention of the party's name) provoked real fear as well as loathing among senior figures in the then-embattled Conservative Party, gripped by the prospect that Ukip could threaten their core vote.

Senior Tories shudder no longer. As Ukip prepares last-ditch defences ahead of this June's Euro elections, the party has been dogged by scandal and infighting. Mr Kilroy-Silk has long departed in acrimony and the current leader, Nigel Farage, has faced bitter recriminations over the party's direction as it enters polls that will determine whether it continues to exist as a serious political unit.

The party has garnered only between 1 and 2 per cent of voters' support in recent polling, although the only poll of Euro election voting intentions did put its support at 7 per cent. Its party conference in September was overshadowed by reports of plotting, intrigue and extraordinary internal feuds. In September, The Independent revealed that the party's press officer, Annabelle Fuller, had resigned after receiving phone threats. Senior Tories breathed sighs of relief as they watched the events in Bournemouth unfold.

The Ukip website boasts of the party's antics in the European Parliament last month, where MEPs sang the national anthem out of tune to disrupt their colleagues' rendition of the EU "anthem", Beethoven's "Ode to Joy". They have blamed the part-privatisation of the Royal Mail on EU directives and linked increases in the rat population to European recycling targets.

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