Public Affairs Soap Box: Alex Deane of Weber Shandwick on UKIP

We are witnessing a game-changing rise in UKIP's standing. It does not take a crystal ball to visualise that the party will be vying with Labour to win next year's elections for Britain's seats in the European Parliament.

Alex Deane: head of public affairs at Weber Shandwick
Alex Deane: head of public affairs at Weber Shandwick

UKIP’s media presence is strengthening (albeit an overreliance on Nigel Farage remains a weakness). Its poll numbers often beat the Liberal Democrats.

The proposed referendum on our membership of the European Union, pledged of course in an attempt to spike UKIP’s guns, will loom large in politics for the next few years and plays directly to UKIP’s central issue.

Although the general election in 2015 is still unlikely to see even a single  UKIP Westminster gain, it will undoubtedly see the party influence the results in a number of seats.

While its large presence in Brussels is presently neutered in political terms by its MEPs’ marked reluctance to engage with the institutions that decide so much of the law and regulatory environment in the UK, this can change – and some among UKIP’s members wish it to do so.

All of this points to a need for PA specialists to address UKIP’s rise in dispensing advice to clients. This presents a potential challenge for an industry that lacks many (or any?) UKIP practitioners.

As a strongly Eurosceptic Tory, I wish that UKIP didn't (need to) exist - but they do, and I fear that our industry is a little behind the curve in reflecting that.

In an environment in which the coalition parties and Labour seem relatively close together in positioning terms, it was perhaps inevitable that a protest party for all manner of disaffected voters would develop with positions once represented among, but now largely abandoned by, the mainstream parties.

Even if a referendum shot its main fox, UKIP or an inheritor to it would continue to change our political landscape, because its positioning and issues now go far beyond the EU.

We need to understand UKIP – because it is here to stay.

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