UKIP: The ugly duckling becoming a Swann?

UKIP still have a way to go in converting votes into actual seats. But they're no longer the ugly duckling of British politics

Nigel Farage welcomes Alexandra Swann on board
Emily Wilson
On 15 May 2012 11:38

UKIP’s surge in popularity was showcased with their best ever result in a local Election on Thursday May 3rd. They recorded an average of 13 percent of the vote in the seats they contested. The movement, labelled by Michael Heaver on these very pages as “Farage Fever”, is gaining traction as a result of dissatisfaction with the three main political parties – the Tories feeling the brunt of it.

The movement was first characterised with two notable defections from the Conservative party back in March. Roger Helmer MEP defected to UKIP and was a guest speaker at their conference in Skegness. He was joined in Lincolnshire by a second, and in many ways more significant defector, who does not fit the stereotypical mould – a 24-year-old woman named Alexandra Swann. She wore three inch heels and a dress and definitely stood out among the largely male following that UKIP are so famed for.

Swann, from Surrey, was the deputy-chair of Conservative Future until October and defected to UKIP in March. Her speech at the UKIP conference was well received. It helped ignite “Farage Fever”, and resulted in the Guardian labelling her the new face of UKIP.

She claimed there was wide dissatisfaction among the Conservative Party with how David Cameron was running the shop and speculated that many more Tories would soon follow herself and Mr Helmer.

She has been proven right. Numerous conservative councillors have switched allegiances since and Mr Farage even confirmed that he was in discussion with some Tory MPs about defecting to UKIP when talking to BBC's Andrew Neil.

“I left the Conservatives because I believe that Cameron is alienating members of the party,” said Miss Swann – a statement that was certainly echoed in the words of several Tory MPs who called for David Cameron to move back to the right after the local elections last week.

Swann recently moved to Brussels to become chief of staff for Mr Helmer and is making quite an impression. She has been approached by BBC 3 for a potential documentary, and will appear on BBC 3’s Free Speech, a live debate show, on Wednesday.

“Alexandra is clearly an impressive young lady who has already made a considerable impact in the media,” said Mr Helmer.

“She gave a cracking conference speech and had the audience eating out of her hand. Her message was that many young Conservatives are increasingly unhappy with the EU, and the Party’s stance on Europe. I am impressed by her robust and realistic opinions on current political issues.

“Ten years ago, or even five, the Eurosceptic movement could fairly be characterised by a coalition of the elderly and disgruntled. Alexandra typifies the new wave of young, bright, focused young people who believe in freedom, democracy and a Libertarian approach.

“She is not alone; there are many more in her age group who have come across to UKIP and there are no doubt many more to follow.”

Swann is enjoying her new job in Brussels and her new found allegiance with the more free-thinking Independence Party

“UKIP are a lot friendlier than the Tories,” she said. “As a member of Conservative Future, with no real power, I was monitored and forced to stick rigidly to the party line.

“The Tories stifle debate, and no one gets along, whereas UKIP encourage debate and they all get along fine.

“We are known as a single issue party for our policies on Europe, but people should be concentrating on our other policies. Our tax and education policies are what really drew me here.”

Despite UKIP’s recent surge in popularity the party were sidelined by much of the mainstream media, often in favour of the Green Party - who they had been consistently polling above.With record election results indicating that people are seeing UKIP as a realistic alternative, it will be harder for the main stream media to continue to ignore them.

“The perception that the media puts out to the people about UKIP is going to change very soon,” said Winston McKenzie, UKIP’s Croydon and Sutton candidate for the London Assembly. “We are attracting the youth of today. No other political party is advocating for young people.”

Stephen Woolfe, who narrowly missed out on a top up seat on the London Assembley, agreed. He said, “Our results in London show we are no longer a small party.

“We are gaining the support of young people all over the country who are bored of the same old politics and being lied to by their leaders.”

With “Farage fever” embracing the country and the government looking more unstable as every day goes by, are the party so famed for their Euroskeptic stance starting to become a real force amongst disengaged younger voters?

They still have a long way to go, and need to convert percentage votes into actual seats, but having a young, exciting politician like Alexandra on their side certainly can't harm the once-marginalised party.

Emily Wilson is a freelance journalist. She blogs here. Follow Alexandra Swann on twitter @AlexandralSwann  

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