By Julian Knight, Michael Pattison

From a minor party with a small support structure to a major political force, such is the path trod by the UK independence party led by Nigel Farage. The party was originally formed to tackle the twin issues of Britain’s troubled relationship with the European Union (UKIP wants Britain to exit the EU) and mass immigration. However, under the charismatic leadership of Mr Farage UKIP has managed to broaden its support to such an extent that it now regularly polls above 10 per cent in the opinion polls and even managed to persuade some Conservative Members of Parliament to defect to them.

What’s more, the UKIP effect is no longer only felt amongst Conservative voters. UKIP has attracted voters from the Labour Party and in particular the Liberal Democrats. They have done this by appearing to be the party of protest, the anti-establishment party. This protest party role was always the hallmark of the Liberal Democrats, but since they entered government and have had to make tough decisions, they can no longer legitimately claim to be anti-establishment. As a result, many people who are discontented with the political mainstream have migrated to UKIP.

The UKIP juggernaut does, however, have some fundamental flaws. Its appeal is geographically quite limited. For instance, it tends to have very little electoral impact in London which is the economic centre of the UK, nor does UKIP poll strongly in Wales and Scotland. This means that the number of parliamentary seats it can expect to challenge for is very limited indeed. There is also a leadership issue. Nigel Farage is undoubtedly popular but below Mr Farage there are few figures of real weight and notoriety. In fact, many commentators have suggested that this was one of the main reasons for the defections of conservative MPs to UKIP in September 2014. In effect what happened was that UKIP were courting professional politicians to make the party appear more effective.

All in all, the electoral march of UKIP in recent years has been considerable but it remains to be seen whether or not this will be sustained and how many UKIP MPs will hold a seat in Westminster after the 2015 general election.