Whilst the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties report significant declines in party membership, Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party (UKIP) is bucking the trend with a 10,000 (over 30%) increase in party membership over the last year.
And the rise in support can be seen more than in just membership numbers alone. There is a deep, unseen and untapped level of support for UKIP across the country as a group of entrepreneurial canvassers found out.
The Economic Voice followed a small team of UKIP activists on the doorsteps of Shaftesbury, North Dorset, who claim to be reaping the rewards of UKIP’s rising popularity with the local public.
Steve Unwin, a local UKIP canvasser, goes back to basics going from house to house knocking on doors. At the first two there is no reply. The third opens their door.
“Hello, I am calling on behalf of the local branch of UKIP.” says Steve showing the back of his clipboard with a large UKIP logo on it “and I’m calling to see whether you are likely to be a local supporter?”
The reply this time is “No, I don’t think so.”
“Is that because you normally support one of the others?” asks Steve. To which the reply is “No, I don’t vote”. The resident is thanked and offered a purple leaflet entitled “What We Stand For: a Statement of UKIP Principles”.
After noting down the response Mr Unwin moves on.
The next three include one more with no reply, and two that are not UKIP supporters. But the next says “Yes, I’ll be voting UKIP.”
“Thank you, that's great.” says Steve and continues: “A small group of us are out today. We recently met as new local members and offered to help with UKIP deliveries in this area. We found they were only giving us 6,000 leaflets but we have 45,000 households so clearly need to improve to communicate with everyone in the constituency. We are a relatively new political party and were relying on a small number of people to do too much, so the need to build is understandable. We realised we need a large number of people to each offer a small amount of help. We have divided the town into small areas of 100-150 houses and wonder if you would help with your local patch?”
The supporter indicates they have little spare time to give to UKIP so Steve says: “It’s very non-onerous – it’ll be twice a year and just once or twice in each election – that means about an hour-and-a-half or so of your time twice a year. Plus the same again when there is an election.”
He explains the area, the local street and two cul-de-sacs – 137 houses in all to the brand new helper saying “We have an Autumn UKIP Dorset newsletter to go out now and another to go out in the Spring. Then the European Election campaign in April 2014 and General Election a year later, and that is all that we need.”
He also points out that the cost of joining UKIP is only £30 a year should they wish to become a member of the party and that it would also help if they would agree to sponsor UKIP candidates in elections by signing the forms when needed or maybe put up a poster in their house or car window.
The supporter seems content and agrees. They exchange numbers, and minutes later a revisit is made and the first batch of leaflets from the back of Steve’s car are handed over for delivery.
The UKIP canvassers re-convene and move a few hundred yards to their next block of streets. In under two hours they find three more helpers in different areas then meet up to in a local pub for a well-earned pint and to collate the evening’s information.
“Four helpers is a really good result." said Steve "We usually find two or three in one night. The beauty is that, had we spent the same time delivering leaflets, we could not possibly have covered the same amount of territory that our new helpers will now do. The added bonus is they will help again in the Spring, and again in the following elections.”
“We have done this for a couple of hours in the evening every Thursday for six weeks and are consistently finding about a third of our supporters are agreeing to help. In six weeks we have recruited 16 new helpers, and have only scratched the surface in a fraction of one of our five towns. There is a real desire for change, and a willingness to actually do their bit to achieve this. If you explain the need for just a little help, those who are able seem more than prepared to respond.”
Mr Unwin formerly worked over ten years ago as a full-time professional Agent to the Conservative Party. “The day David Cameron declared that in 2017 he would have a referendum on EU membership was the day I joined UKIP.” he said. “It was weasel words: he would renegotiate with the EU but there was no mention of what he wanted to renegotiate, and in spite of what was or was not agreed, he would ‘campaign rigorously’ for Britain to remain in the EU. He clearly does not want out in any circumstances. Cameron has worked very hard to put off traditional supporters, but that was the final tipping-point for me to now work hard to get him out.
“The doorstep response to UKIP has been a real eye-opener. In over 17 years working for the Tory Party we never got this level of response. We would have been lucky to get one in ten or twenty of our declared supporters to do something to help.
“UKIP branches need to invest their time to grasp this golden opportunity. The momentum is rolling for us to get more people on board to help our campaign to re-claim our country. What we are doing here is not rocket science, anyone can do it and I would just ask UKIP supporters across the country to please give it a go. I think you would be pleasantly surprised.
“All they have to do" he concluded "is get hold of their local branch for some leaflets and, with a map of their area, start asking people.”