Fear of a UKIP planet

In the 1980s, a TV adaptation of Chris Mullin's A Very British Coup imagined what would happen if a hard-left government took power, and set about aggressively remaking capitalism.

It imagined a shady cabal of civil servants, press barons and business leaders, plotting to bring down this revolutionary government.

Thirty years on, another TV drama imagines life after a very different election result. 

UKIP: The First 100 Days tries to bring to life the possible impact of a massive swing towards Nigel Farage, barely giving him time to smoke a fag as the limo charges from the Palace to the steps of Downing Street.

His party's describing the film as "part of the rough and tumble of politics", but its picture of a UKIP Britain isn't an especially happy one, with riots in the streets, firms packing up, and millions of jobs disappearing.

It is, of course, a fantasy. UKIP will be lucky to end up with 5 MPs, even if their vote holds up. Nigel Farage will almost certainly not be smoking his way through Cabinet meetings any time soon.

But those hoping the film may prompt a rethink from voters flirting with UKIP may be disappointed.

The party regularly claims to speak for the dispossessed, those feeling other politicians don't speak for them, or understand their concerns -- and there may be some truth in that claim.

Take immigration. When YouGov asks voters to rank issues in order of importance, immigration features strongly.

Overall, 52% of those questioned say it's important. But look what happens when you ask that question of UKIP supporters:

Immigration voter stats.jpg

While supporters of other parties often have bigger concerns (especially the NHS and the state of the economy), immigration dominates the minds of the great majority of UKIP voters, dwarfing every other issue.

Even Europe, ostensibly UKIP's chief concern, attracts only half as much attention.

Does this simply mean UKIP has become the home of the anti-immigrant protest vote? Perhaps, but it also suggests there's a significant section of public opinion left feeling disconnected from what we used to call mainstream politics.

Channel 4's film will be easily dismissed by pro-UKIP voices as just another example of "liberal media bias".

Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem politicians long since ended their silence on immigration -- the old fear that even addressing the topic invited racism abandoned as voters made clear they want to talk about it.

As the campaign continues, expect to hear messages from all three parties on controlling the numbers allowed into the UK, though each will take a very different tone.

Will that be enough to chip away at UKIP's record high poll ratings? It would certainly be a mistake to discount some kind of drift back to mainstream parties.

Remember the Nick Clegg bounce of 2010? The Lib Dems surged to 30% in some polls after his first TV debate appearance. But by election day they finished with fewer seats than five years earlier.

There's no doubt the situation is different now. We've had five years of coalition government for a start. Both UKIP and the Green Party are certain to achieve record levels of support in May.

But General Elections are different. They're about who runs the country. Our political map has never been so fragmented, but ultimately one of two men will be Prime Minister after May 7th.

Voters are enjoying politicians' discomfort. For the last couple of years, our political leaders appear to have lost their touch, and as they've struggled to connect Nigel Farage has been there, pint in hand, ready to welcome floating voters to his people's army.

UKIP won't dive back to the 5% performance of years ago -- but in every general election so far, support for the Conservatives and Labour has solidified as people start to think seriously about who they want to run the country.

Nigel Farage's party can probably get five MPs with 5% of the national vote, or 15%. It's not about power, it's about influence.

A UKIP Britain, if it ever happens, is a far distant prospect. A more UKIP-ish Britain, by contrast, may be just a few months away.