The work of Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin on UKIP has been a right dog's dinner. In an article reproduced for the The Guardian, they describe UKIP in terms of domestic elections as "the BNP minus the racism".
That statement alone demonstrates the absurd nature of Goodwin and Ford's findings. The BNP without racism? That'd be nationalisation, protectionism and high taxes then. Except UKIP stands for precisely zero of these things.
A bit of background: Goodwin and Ford both specialise in "far-right" politics, and Goodwin even has a book coming out soon equating the BNP's rise to a new fascist threat. I think their new-found interest in UKIP may have something to do with the fact that the BNP have stalled and are falling apart at the seams. Indeed, all of those hysterical anti-democratic protesters who howled with despair when Nick Griffin went on Question Time now look incredibly ridiculous. The Party has hardly gone from strength to strength since. It is therefore likely that the BNP's impending demise will leave a gap in work for Goodwin and Ford.
So they have attempted - badly - to throw the far-right label onto UKIP. They're settled on it. They accuse UKIP of attacking immigrants and Muslims - something that will come a shock to those Muslim and immigrant UKIP members and candidates who I'm sure will have about as much of a clue as to what this pair are on about as I have.
While the pair touch on how UKIP won many working class votes in the Barnsley by-election, they have attempted to restrict UKIP's appeal to former Labour voters who fit the "far-right" description: hostile to uncontrolled immigration, radical Islam and establishment politicians (though in reality I'd say those three things are true for most people now - are we a "far right" nation?). The problem with that is that a poll done in Barnsley demonstrated that 19% of UKIP's voters were ex-LibDem supporters. Were they attracted by UKIP's policies on immigration and Islam? That seems doubtful: if these were top priorities, they wouldn't have voted LibDem the year before. I understand that when a BBC journalist was recently told about UKIP's increasing appeal among ex-LibDem voters, they dismissed the claim straight away. But the YouGov polling is consistent and telling: today's for instance shows once more than nearly as many a percentage of 2010 LibDem voters as Tory voters now plan to vote UKIP. Past polls have frequently shown UKIP to attract a greater percentage of 2010 LibDem voters than Tory or Labour supporters who have switched since the General Election last year.
Like nearly all commentators, Goodwin and Ford have seriously let themselves down by seeking to pigeon-hole UKIP as a Party which is comparable to those led by Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands. This is utter nonsense.
The truth is that UKIP is a developing phenomenon which appeals to a variety of people in different areas. In some areas UKIP is backed mainly by formerly Thatcherite Tories, in some by working class Old Labour types and as is showed by YouGov's regular daily polls, the Party is repeatedly being shown to attract LibDem voters. They are not all attracted by the same narrow image or policy platform that these academics suppose they are. This is the defining difference that has seen UKIP break away from the "fringe" pack and attract a national vote share that the Green Party and BNP could only dream of.
Having actually spoken to many voters and members unlike Goodwin and Ford who spoke to I believe 500 UKIP voters (out of the 2,500,000 who voted UKIP in 2009 and 920,000 who backed the Party in 2010), I know that the Party's appeal goes beyond immigration, the EU and anti-politician sentiment. Rather I have met people who vote UKIP due to our policy on defence, law and order and education or due to local issues. Indeed, UKIP's education policy is what attracted me to the Party!
While the academics and politicians go on lazily misunderstanding UKIP, they allow the Party to continue to flourish - though I somehow doubt they could the Party now anyway. Growing relentlessly under both Labour and Conservative-led governments, the Party is far more resilient than these people give it credit for. Despite a largely hostile media and a Prime Minister posing as a Eurosceptic and someone who will confront immigration, UKIP will continue to grow because quite simply, UKIP's appeal is wider than most are willing to believe.