Much of UKIP’s appeal has arisen from positioning itself as the ‘anti-Westminster party’ but to what extent do UKIP candidates differ from those put forward by the ‘traditional parties’? Sally Symington and Jennifer Hudson assess the backgrounds of UKIP candidates using the data available and suggest that they may in fact reinforce the ‘male, pale and stale’ image of parliament.
UKIP is no longer a peripheral party and will, for the for first time in a British General Election, have a measurable impact on the outcome, both directly, through winning seats, and indirectly by influencing the behaviour of the other major parties. According to recent polling data, support for UKIP is at 16% and Ofcom has endorsed it as a ‘major’ party, including UKIP in the prospective TV leader debates. A recent poll of pollsters predicts UKIP will win five seats in May.
Much of UKIP’s appeal has arisen from positioning itself as the outsider or ‘anti-Westminster party’. After the Clacton by-electon in October 2014 Nigel Farage claimed, ‘We have a career political class of college kids who have never had jobs in their lives with absolutely no connection to ordinary people’. In this blog, we look at the backgrounds of UKIP candidates and ask to what extent are they different from candidates representing the traditional three parties? Are they less likely to have gone to university and worked outside of politics? Are UKIP candidates really different or do they reinforce the ‘male, pale and stale’ image of parliament?
Data on UKIP are surprisingly hard to get: candidates are not as forthcoming on websites as to their backgrounds, the internal party infrastructure is less well established than the other major parties, and local newspaper journalists have yet to tackle the more probing questions that might be expected to be answered by candidates with a serious intent standing for elected office in the House in Commons. Drawing on publicly available data, here’s a look at UKIP candidates to date.
Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) candidates make up 6% of non-incumbent UKIP prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) compared with 9% of candidates for Labour, 11% for the Conservatives and 10% for the Liberal Democrats. The Green party has a similarly low percentage of BME candidates also at 4%. These figures compare with 17% of the population of England and Wales identifying as BME in the 2011 census.
Women comprise just 13% of new UKIP candidates compared with 37% of Labour, 31% of Conservative, 29 % of Liberal Democrat and 36% of Green Party candidates.
The average age of UKIP candidates at 52 years old is considerably higher on average than for candidates of other parties: Conservative (40), Labour (44), Lib Dem (48) and Green (45) years old.
To date, only 14% of UKIP candidates (and 7% of Green candidates) have made available information on which school they attended compared with 31%, 30% and 28% of Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates respectively. From the figures obtained, 31% of UKIP candidates attended grammar schools, compared to 27% for Labour, 22% for Conservatives and 30% for Liberal Democrats. A further 23% of UKIP candidates attended private schools compared with 34% of Conservative candidates, 20% of Liberal Democrat candidates and 10% of Labour candidates.
Again, fewer UKIP and Green candidates report their level of compared to candidates from the three main parties. From the figures available, 47% of UKIP candidates have an undergraduate degree, a level similar to candidates from the Labour and Green party (48%), but less than Conservative (62%) and Liberal Democrat (58%) candidates.
However, fewer UKIP candidates have post-graduate degrees compared with candidates from the other parties and a commensurately higher proportion have been educated to secondary school level. Furthermore, UKIP candidates are less likely to have attended Oxbridge: only 9% are Oxbridge graduates compared to Labour (20%), Conservative (32%), Liberal Democrats (24%) and Green (18%).
UKIP candidates are drawn heavily from commerce, business and management occupational backgrounds: 37% report a job or career in this area, many of whom run their own businesses. 36% of Conservative candidates have a similar background in business, compared with 16% for Labour, 21% for Liberal Democrats and 17% for Greens. Notably 11% of UKIP candidates are retired.
Links to Politics
UKIP has the lowest percentage of candidates (22%) with jobs that have a direct link to politics. This compares with 35% for Labour, 32% for Conservative, 35% for Liberal Democrats and 26% for Greens.
Previous election experience
Finally, UKIP candidates may have more political experience than is often portrayed: 35% have stood in a previous general election, a figure similar to other parties’ candidates. Of the UKIP candidates who stood in a previous election and for whom data is available, 48% have switched party, gaining campaigning experience with the Conservative and Labour parties.
In running as ‘outsiders’ Farage and UKIP hope to capitalise on the anti-Westminster / anti-politics mood amongst the British public. Our data show, contrary to some claims, that UKIP candidates reinforce the ‘male, pale and stale’ image of parliament. UKIP candidates are less likely to be Oxbridge educated, but their overall percentage of university-educated candidates is similar to Labour. And while they are less likely to come from jobs with direct links to politics—hence, fewer ‘career politicians’—it would be a stretch to think of this cohort of candidates as political novices. With less than 100 days to the General Election, the 430+ UKIP candidates who have announced thus far are looking very familiar to the electorate.
Data are correct as of 22 January 2015 www.parliamentarycandidates.org
About the Authors
Sally Symington completed an MSc in Public Policy at UCL in 2014 and worked in the Constitution Unit as an Intern on the Parliamentary Candidates Project.
Dr Jennifer vanHeerde-Hudson is Senior Lecturer in Political Behaviour & Departmental Graduate Tutor at UCL.