Becoming a serious contender
Infi ghting, like a dismal election result, can have a devastating impact on a party’s morale. In the aftermath of the 2004 European elections, UKIP went from elation to despair in just a few months. Wrenching internal disputes had once again threatened to undo their historic electoral achievement. While activists should have been enjoying their new success, the fallout from Robert Kilroy-Silk’s departure left them weakened and demoralised. Instead of charging into the next battle with the main parties, the general election in 2005, they could only limp. Watching from the sidelines, one journalist spoke for many when he wondered whether UKIP’s ‘bubble may have burst’. 1
As the 2005 general election approached, the party’s deteriorating prospects were clear to all, including the handful of journalists who had gathered at the launch of the UKIP manifesto. They were met by a beleaguered Roger Knapman, who asked whether they had questions. ‘What happened to the UKIP?’ asked one. ‘Where is the breakthrough in domestic politics so confi dently predicted after your triumph at the European elections last June?’ While apologising for sounding unsympathetic, the journalist continued to explain how she was now only one of a few in Westminster assigned to report on UKIP. ‘I share your fate’, she continued. ‘If you are, as you say, the gadfl ies of British politics, I am the fl ea on the gadfl y, and pickings have been thin.’ 2
Dusting off and moving on: the 2005 campaign
The problem was now a familiar one to UKIP. Their European election campaign had been a triumph, but as soon as they were back at a general election two key political ingredients – unity and
momentum – suddenly vanished. It was not a new sensation for senior activists, who remembered the infi ghting that had undermined the campaigns in 1997 and 2001, which failed to produce anything close to the level of support seen at European elections. By now, UKIP should have been maturing into a serious domestic challenger. Instead, they appeared as a political phenomenon that could only thrive once every fi ve years, when the issue agenda and the electoral rules were tilted in their favour.