Britain seldom does well at producing political parties outside the mainstream, and UKIP has had a pretty miserable time. But it sprang to life two years ago when it claimed 16% of the vote in the European Parliament elections –forcing the Lib Dems into fourth place. The question for the Tories is whether UKIP could manage this trick again. It is not psephologically impossible. The British electorate is increasingly fed up with its three big parties. The protest vote is there for the taking.
But it needs leadership. UKIP’s surge came when Robert Kilroy-Silk, a former BBC chatshow host, became its figurehead (if not its leader) and proved himself a skilled populist. He portrayed UKIP as a rebel army and started something which caused the Tories deep panic. When he left, the party’s profile sank as quickly as it has risen and at the last general election its voting share returned to a derisory 2.2%.
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