The Nigel Farage Paradox: the higher his public profile, the lower is public support to leave the EU

Nigel Farage

Here is the Nigel Farage paradox: the more that Ukip’s media profile, poll rating and party membership has grown over the last two years, the more that support for the party’s core mission – that Britain should leave the European Union – seems to have shrunk.

    Sunder Katwala, director of British Future (New Statesman, 3 April 2014)

And here are two YouGov graphs that illustrate the Nigel Farage Paradox…

As Ukip poll ratings rise, disapproval of UK’s membership of EU falls

ukip europe support

As Ukip poll ratings rise, importance of EU as issue for British voters falls

ukip europe interest

Sunder Katwala highlights the dangers for Ukip if it’s anti-EU campaign focuses only on “nostalgia for the past, anger about what has changed, and pessimism for the future”:

The Ukip leader may be making the political weather, but if Euroscepticism does not have a much broader appeal than Ukip, Nigel Farage risks becoming an unlikely heir to the late Tony Benn. Benn’s insurgency mobilised activism on the left as had not been achieved for a generation, but failed catastrophically at the ballot box. The Labour left-winger was the decisive voice in insisting on a referendum after Britain joined the EEC. Harold Wilson granted Benn’s wish. But though the anti-EEC campaign began in the lead, it lost the vote by a two-to-one margin. If Farage does secure a referendum, a Ukip-dominated campaign might prove a recipe for losing it.

But Sunder rightly highlights, too, the risk for Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems of appealing only to status quo pro-Europeans:

Nick Clegg’s performance was narrowly pitched to pro-European voters who might come out for the LibDems in May 2014. That showed that the question of “who can give the pro-EU case popular reach beyond those already onside” still awaits an answer.

Uncomfortably for the Lib Dems the answer remains David Cameron if we don’t combine support for the European Union with support for reform of the EU. I suspect his post-debate triangulation was most successful in speaking for mainstream public opinion:

“Nick thinks there’s nothing wrong with Europe and we shouldn’t have a referendum, and Nigel thinks there’s nothing right with Europe and we should just get out and leave. They’re both wrong.”

The bigger question is not whether David Cameron would be able to persuade the British public that the UK should remain within the EU – but rather whether he can persuade his own party.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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This entry was posted in News.


  • Stick by your principles, we in UKIP intend to do so.

    If you believe so strongly in your EU cause, then you should have the integrity to campaign on it, red in blood and claw, and be prepared to go down with it if you lose. Your party has contrived over the years to deny the public a voice on this matter, you have ignored the tangible concerns from across the spectrum about rampant immigration and the loss of our identity and culture. In some ways I admire Clegg at the moment, because he has had the honesty to have last come out and shown that he doesn’t really care about our identity, and probably never has, and from his hopeless performance against Farage, has shown that he has no argument for a positive pro EU position, other than a personal ideology to impose something on us that we do not want.
    Go to the polls on a honest platform of what you have been undemocractically imposing on us for 40 years , and when the public reject you, at least have the decency to accept that you have lost the argument and give up. The UK public want a UK they recognise not some homogenous pasteurised non entitiy, but a living breathing independent, individual state that honours its culture and traditions, and it would increasingly seem that they are prepared to destroy the political system to get it.

  • “Your party has contrived over the years to deny the public a voice on this matter”

    Wrong. We had something called a general election in 2010 if you remember, in which your party got zero MPs and 3.1% of the vote.

    If people had wanted to withdraw from Europe that much, they would have voted for you, wouldn’t they?

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th Apr '14 - 10:45am

    Given that you are polling around 12% of the population when it comes to voting intentions for the GE, would you mind not using the term ‘we’ quite so much.

    In what way have I lost my identity and culture? It is exactly te same now as it was when I was growing up.

  • @ Jayne Mansfield ‘Given that you are polling around 12% of the population when it comes to voting intentions for the GE, would you mind not using the term ‘we’ quite so much.’

    On Uk Polling Report today the Lib Dems are on 9%. Best not to use that argument as why should the Lib Dems have any influence with that rating?

  • “Wrong. We had something called a general election in 2010 if you remember, in which your party got zero MPs and 3.1% of the vote.”

    Of course, that would be a lot more convincing if in the last parliament Nick Clegg hadn’t made so much of the need for an “in/out” referendum to settle the argument over Europe. Who knows? Some people who voted Lib Dem in 2010 may have thought he still believed what he’d said …

  • a different Chris 7th Apr '14 - 12:05pm

    Insistence from inside the Westminster bubble that ‘of course the EU needs reform’ are laughable. Talk about getting the mote out of your own eye. British political hacks should concentrate on sorting out the utterly undemocratic mess that is the government of this country before they start talking about reform of the EU.

  • londonliberal 7th Apr '14 - 1:09pm

    It’s the ravings of people like Raddiye that make me realise why UKIP will forever be a party for people who are scared and lacking in confidence about their identity and notion of identity. I live in a multicultral part of London and have no issue with my englishness, and how it sits alongside a broader vision of what ‘britishness’ means in the 21st century. I feel genuinely sad for those who live their life in fear of others, as so many kippers seem to do.

  • Julian Tisi 7th Apr '14 - 1:23pm

    An interesting article. I too was annoyed by Nick’s weakest answer where he appeared to back the status quo in Europe, which has never been his or our party’s position. I agree that Cameron has exploited this well and we now have to try to reclaim this reforming ground by pointing out what we’ve already done to reform the EU from within and what we would like to change going forward.

    @ Raddiy – You talk a lot about identity. How exactly does the EU threaten this? Are the Germans or French any less German or French because of their participance in the EU? How exactly are the culture and traditions of Britain threatened by our participation in a union that has limited powers over limited areas of policy?

  • This choice is much more simple than liberal ‘metro bubble’ dwellers, would have you believe. Liberal Democrats want to push their sovereignty into Brussels, and the British public,…. don’t. It’s that simple.
    Sorry, but I don’t have graphs or a ‘following’ of tweety feeds to prove my point, but if you can be patient for about 45 days, you will find out the truth. Seriously,.. put down your tweet machines, go outside, and smell the proletariat.

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th Apr '14 - 2:05pm

    Dear Anne,
    How many MP’s do you have?

    How many times has Nigel Farage stood as a parliamenatry candidate and how many times has he been elected as an MP?

    I believe he came third at the last attempt losing to John Bercow.

  • I agree with a different Chris —
    British political hacks should concentrate on sorting out the utterly undemocratic mess that is the government of this country before they start talking about reform of the EU.

    We do not elect our head of state, more than 800. members of our parliament are not elected, some get their seats in parliament by being bishops in a minority cult, others buy their seats in parliament. Yet UKIP seem to think this is a great system and has to be protected from Europe!

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th Apr '14 - 2:20pm

    @ Raddyie,
    I would have been more worried about British identity and culture if UKIp ( the party endorsed by the EDL) , had won at the last eection.

    Since when has deploying troops on our streets been ‘ British’. The policeman is an iconic British image.

    As a theatre goer, what is the ‘proper dress code’ that UKIP would impose on me? Would being restricted in what I could wear balance out the freedom of me being able to carry a and gun? These were the sort of decisions I had to balance when I voted in the 2010 General election.

  • John Tilley:
    The polls for the LibDems are bad enough don’t drive out supporters of the Church of England and the Royal Family as well.

  • Curiously, this article could just as much be about loss of support for Lib Dems correlating with increased support for Europe…

  • Some of you seem to be missing my point.
    I won’t reply individually, because most of the responses are dancing around the same pinhead. I was acknowledging the position taken by Nick Clegg of being the party of IN, whether or not it was effective , or whether it will be continued after his beasting last week only time will tell.

    This really has nothing to do with UKIP, we will stick by our policies, whether it is the EU and all that goes with it, reducing Overseas Aid to emergency relief , or scrapping the green lunacy etc etc. no if’s, no buts.

    Time will tell what the public want, if they comprehensively reject the direction that UKIP are following in the EU elections next month, and if our 2015 support drops to less than the 3% we won in 2010, then you will have won your victory as the party of IN, and we will have failed

  • @ londonliberal

    ” I live in a multicultral part of London and have no issue with my englishness, and how it sits alongside a broader vision of what ‘britishness’ means in the 21st century. I feel genuinely sad for those who live their life in fear of others, as so many kippers seem to do.”

    My ravings!
    Why am I raving, am I not entitled to an opinion , or is your opinion somehow more valuable than mine because you live in a multicultural part of London. I wonder if my black American son in law, mixed race grandson, and Lithuanian daughter in law, doesn’t trump your measly hand of simply living in a multicultural part of London.

    The fact that you raised Englishness and Britishness, when I mentioned neither, suggests to me that you do have a problem with one or the other, especially when I mentioned neither in my first post, would that I wonder consititute raving?

    The only people most kippers are fearful of, are the lunatics that are currently running the asylum

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th Apr '14 - 4:22pm


    Forgive me if I am missing the point, but what is your point? You say that you will stick to your policies. According to Nigel Farage, your 2010 manifesto was ‘drivel’.

    Are you intending to stick to the policies therein or not? Are you still committed to scrapping Trident?

  • @Raddiy

    What did you mean when you discussed identity in your original post? Curious to read your thoughts.

    Very best,


  • Peter Watson 7th Apr '14 - 6:24pm

    I’m amused by the dismissals of UKIP in this thread because of their lack of MPs or Farage’s failure to win a seat under first-past-the-post.. Surely Lib Dems of all people should be calling for a system where UKIP’s representation is proportional to its support.

  • Hi ATF,

    What did I mean by identity!

    I suppose if I was to act to the stereotype that I am labelled with as a kipper I would be talking about everything from racial purity to a yearning for a night out at the pictures, a fish and chip supper, a pint at the Dog and Duck, my bus fare home, and still have change from 2/6d.

    What is identity? Who knows!

    Perhaps an instinctive sense of belonging, a sense of home. Standing in York Minster or Durham Cathedral in awe of the achievements of those who have gone before, or perhaps standing at Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium or Hermanville-sur-Mer behind Sword Beach in Normandy with tears in your eyes because you can identify with the names on the graves of the Durham Light Infantry , the Duke of Cornwalls Light Infantry or the Ox and Bucks. Perhaps identity is an abstract concept in the same way the Unknown Soldier is the husband father, brother or uncle of all those left behind.

    I really can’t answer your question, it is not a political construct that can be analysed remodelled, devalued or revalued to suit a political ideology, which is what the political class consider it to be. Can you explain the contradiction why LIb Dems acknowledge a Scottish, Welsh or Irish identity, not only acknowledge them , but actively promote them , but disparage, insult and ridicule an English identity.

    Identity in UKIP is visceral not intellectual, and is probably the reason why the other parties will never understand us, and why Nick Clegg was so hopeless last week, he and the other parties actually think people will be prepared to sell their birthright for lower EU roaming charges, Nigel Farage knows that they won’t.


  • What is missing, and what I probably would not like to see, are polls that relate to anti-immigrant attitudes. UKIP protest (too much methinks) that they are not anti-immigrant, but it is fairly obvious that they are successfully milking such attitudes.

    Farage bemoaning the languages spoken in a train carriage he was once in, is one example of small minded intolerance.

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th Apr '14 - 9:30pm

    @ Raddyie,
    I am not in any other party. Indeed, I am temporarily belong to the ‘plague on all your houses’ group.

    Nowhere in your post do you explain how Nick Clegg or anyone who is pro- EU has in any way affected your sense of identity and culture.

    The idea that certain politicians have contrived to deny yourself or anyone else their sense of identity or culture is a serious one. Perhaps you would like to back it up with evidence.

  • @Raddiy

    “Can you explain the contradiction why LIb Dems acknowledge a Scottish, Welsh or Irish identity, not only acknowledge them , but actively promote them , but disparage, insult and ridicule an English identity. ”

    How do we do that?

    Ask the SNP and Plaid about their own national identity – they feel England dominates, comes before everything and everyone else that their identity is devalued, insulted and disparaged.Everything you feel. Orwell’s Notes of Nationalism serves us well on this issue.

    When has the language of Shakespeare, Dickens, Byron or Austen not been taught to children or formed a central pillar of our culture or identity? The music of Elgar, Talis, Purcell or the paintings of Lowry, Constable, Turner or Hockney – how have they been ridiculed? When has history not taught of English Monarchs (though vast swathes of them came from central European families) or the actions of English thinkers, scientists or industralists? Darwin, Darby, Newton, Brunel, Stephenson, Pankhurst, Nightingale, Wolstencraft – all of them are taught, all have statues throughout the country. It was people such as Palmerston, Gladstone, Mill, Cobden, Paine, Keynes and Beveridge who formed so many of the key ideas that keep pushing Liberalism forward, all English.

    Every country can form such a list, every country can take pride in it and I’m going to do as much as I can to learn about and enjoy them. I will do so secure in the knowledge that such achievements will only be forgotten when we stop being interested in humankind’s ability to achieve greatness and that they form part of an even larger world of beauty, excitement and emotion when viewed in relation to the achievement’s of other nations. Afterall, that was the builders of York Minister were doing when they drew inspiration from Northen European Gothic.

    English culture, political ideas, history and identity (if it could ever be defined, you said yourself it can’t be done – I’ve got my own but don’t feel that everyone has to share it ) are doing just fine. No one is denied the access to it or the freedom to celebrate it. On this spectred isle, we do it all the time.

  • How do we do that?

    After all the disparaging comments about ‘little Englanders’, you have to ask?

  • Was it UKIP or was it the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition government that hired “Go Home deportation vans” to drive around the UK?

  • jedibeeftrix 8th Apr '14 - 7:57am

    Little Englanders / chippy Scots

    Which of the two would the ldv editorial team and readership feel less comfortable to have sprinkled ‘liberally’ across the site?

  • @malc

    A Tory idea that was quickly deplored and strongly criticised by the LibDem leadership. A shameful episode that should never have happened.

    @ Bob

    Yes, not language I’m keen on it must be said as the example jedibeefrix rightly points out. The use of a stupid phrase does not though equate to a ridiculing of English identity (as we have seen, that is an impossible term to define and has millions upon millions of variants) but rather a failing to appreciate that people have deeply felt concerns . A little more respect in public debate, from both sides, would go a long way.

  • Jim Hardaker 8th Apr '14 - 6:03pm

    I am guilty of oversimplifying things, I must admit, but it looks to me like Farage/UKIP aren’t making a very convincing point for EU withdrawal in the eyes of many. It seems almost as if the more people listen to them, the more they don’t agree with them – at least on Europe.

  • @Jim Hardaker,

    Indeed, The point people forget after the Clegg/Farage debates is that in polling afterwards more people said they would vote In than Out. Who performed ‘best’ really doesn’t matter in comparison.

  • londonliberal 10th Apr '14 - 1:06pm

    @ Raddiyi

    You mentioned a perceived loss of identity and culture – what else is that but Englishness (or whatever nation of the UK you are from) and Britishness?

    of course you are entitled to your opinion. i was pointing out that it is bonkers and mildly paranoid, s’all. having a member of your family marry a lithuanian doesn’t mean you’re not a racist, or fearful of foreigners, or pro-immigration, by the way.

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