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The Rise of Ukip: Five Things You Need to KnowIBTimes UK

The European elections on 22 May might not seem of much importance to the UK public, but they could prove a historic moment in British politics. The latest opinion polls ahead of the election have the UK Independence Party in the lead, and if they do go on to win the largest share of the votes it would be the first time for almost a century that an outsider party had won a national election.

Ukip has enjoyed a meteoric rise in recent years under their irreverent and charismatic leader Nigel Farage, with he himself saying that the party are about to cause a "political earthquake". IBTimes spoke with Dr Matthew Goodwin, co-author of new book Revolt on the Right: Explaining support for the radical right in Britain, to find out how this populist right-wing party has managed to reach out to large parts of the electorate, and if the support they are receiving now can be sustained.

1) Why has support for Ukip increased?

With Ukip and Nigel Farage you have seen a concerted and more sophisticated attempt than Britain has seen previously at bringing in these financially struggling, pessimistic voters in to the mainstream political fold and getting them back in to politics. Because these are voters who have come from groups who are steadily drifting away from our mainstream political arena.

2) Is Ukip support a rejection of David Cameron and the Conservatives?

If you take a longer term view of Ukip support you quickly realise that they are actually tapping in to widespread public discontent with Westminster politics in general. Not just David Cameron, but David Cameron and Ed Miliband. Not just the current generation of political leaders, but elites in general. Because Ukip are rallying voters who feel very disconnected from our professional, middle-class, slightly London-focused, quite cosmopolitan establishment.

Nigel Farage has been relentlessly attacking that, and it is a view that is shared by a large number of Ukip voters who simply look at Westminster politics, who look at the media, who look at the European Union, and they see institutions who do not represent them, that are not capable of responding to the issues that they feel very intensely about, namely the European Union, immigration, and the state of our politics.

3) How dependent is the party on the personality of Nigel Farage?

It's important to remember that Ukip were founded in 1993. They have been through 20 odd years of peaks and troughs, and they have been led by a number of different figures during that time. Farage has brought them the most electoral success by some way. He is the most externally charismatic and resonant figure that the radical right in Britain has had, and he is also one of the most articulate leaders that probably the radical right across Europe has had.

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Nigel Farage has been leader of Ukip since 2010.Reuters

But Ukip are tapping in to divisions that have been building in British society from the 1970s, so it is not simply Farage who has been mobilising those, they have been there. He has recognised the strength of those divisions, and he has recognised the power of delivering a message to those voters to say no to Europe, say no to Westminster and say no to immigration.

But these underlying currents in British society will still be there long after Farage has come and gone. So he is very important to explain Ukip's success in general, but by himself he can only tell part of the story about why these voters are voting the way that they are.

4) Is Ukip a racist party?

Some of Ukip's electorate are intolerant towards migrants and minorities, but by its nature Ukip is not a racist political party in the same way as far right political parties, for example the British National Party. Nor does Ukip have a history of anti-Semitism or overt racial prejudice like other parties in Europe do, for example the French National Front.

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The posters Ukip launched nationwide ahead of the European elections have proved controversial.Reuters

In fact the majority of Ukip's voters in some of the surveys that have been run since 2009 almost go out of their way to avoid those traditionally racist statements. So I think it is very careful that we do not simply point at Ukip and scream 'racism' or 'bigots' as a way of trying to think that this will somehow neutralise the voters.

If anything it could make it a lot worse because these are voters who feel as though they are not allowed to have a conversation over immigration and the pace of social change in British society today. These are voters who want to talk with their mainstream representatives about why their community is changing so quickly, why they were never asked about these large and unprecedented demographic changes. This is a conversation people want to have, they don't want to be shouted down.

5) What can Ukip achieve beyond the European elections?

The key question of Ukip now though is can they hold on to those European voters as we go in to the 2015 general election? At previous European parliament elections, in 1999, in 2004, in 2009, Ukip lost a lot of their European vote as they went in to the general election. In fact, in some years almost two million Ukip voters went Awol. They went back to the mainstream parties or they didn't turn out at all.

The key challenge for Farage now is to sit down and think, 'well how on Earth do we keep those voters as we go in to the Parliamentary general election in 2015? How do you convince those voters that Ukip is not a wasted vote at the general election?' So that's the big challenge facing Ukip, but as things stand right now they are on course to deliver a historic result on May 22.