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    Nigel Farage and UKIP could cause havoc says Ofcom

    UKIP Could 'Cause Some Havoc for Major Parties' After Ofcom Ruling

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    A decision by the government's media regulator to rank UKIP as a ‘major party' has been met with criticism across some parts of the political spectrum, with renewed debate over whether Nigel Farage's party should be considered a major player in British politics.

    The decision made by Ofcom guarantees UKIP airtime for two party election broadcasts on commercial radio and television, with UKIP's billing as a ‘major party' meaning they share the same rights as other major parties: the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal-Democrats.

    Despite UKIP's significant publicity in 2014, the Ofcom decision means the party will enjoy even more media attention, and is almost certain to be included in any televised cross-party debates in the lead up to May's general election.

    The announcement has drawn criticism from the political left, and in particular the Green Party, with leader Natalie Bennett saying the party was "deeply disappointed" by the ruling "not only for itself, but for the damage it risks doing to British democracy."

    The right call?

    Dr Stuart Wilks-Heeg, head of politics at Liverpool University told Sputnik UK he can understand the protests of the Green Party, given there is a lack of political opinion from the left, but says he believes Ofcom made the right call. 

    "If you look at the evidence, and I believe Ofcom have been through that fairly systematically and fairly carefully, there is a sustained emergence of UKIP as a major party. On a whole host of indicators you'd have to put them ahead of the Liberal-Democrats; whether it's opinion polls or recent vote shares. I guess what does tip it, is that they've shown real strength in by-elections, not just the two that they've won, but also the fact that they've come second in so many, while the Liberal-Democrats have been losing deposits. I think it's a difficult call, but I think they've made the right call."

    He says the extra airtime for UKIP could potentially be a "great boost" for the party following their wins in the Clacton and Rochester and Strood by-elections in 2014, which already generated significant media coverage.

    Can they really challenge the big two?

    Dr Wilks-Heeg believes that UKIP's results in the most recent European parliament elections — where the party won close to 30 percent of the vote and in the process became the first group in modern politics aside from Labour and the Conservatives to win an election — are an indicator of the party's potential to become a big player in British politics.

    "They're at a pivotal moment where they really could start to challenge the big two. On all current indicators, they're certainly going to displace the Liberal-Democrats on vote share at the general election, they won't get more seats than the Liberal-Democrats, but they've got the potential to really cause some havoc for the major parties," he said.

    Dr Wilkes-Heeg pointed out that UKIP are in the unique position where they have been taking support from traditional Labour and Conservative areas in both the north and south of the Britain, with the party's rhetoric towards immigration and the UK's position in Europe generating significant support.

    He believes that UKIP's influence on the major parties and on British political debate is already evident, given the increased emphasis placed on immigration and the UK's relationship with the European Union.

    "There's been no doubt [about UKIP'S influence on mainstream politics]. If you track back and think about what the leaders' debates were like in 2010, and about how issues like Europe and immigration were debated then, and think how inevitable they're going to be discussed in 2015 — that is a massive shift change."

    "I think all of the main parties are going to be very much driven by an agenda in which UKIP has been quite fundamental in setting, and that's a massive change in the last five years."

    Ofcom's decision to officially rank UKIP as a major party will undoubtedly see the group exposed to a much wider audience ahead of May's general election, and marks a shift in British politics, from having a ‘big three,' to a ‘big four' parties.

    Despite the enthusiasm within UKIP's ranks about the party's prospects in May, it is still not known whether UKIP are really here to stay, or whether they are merely just another flash in the pan, cashing on the British public's widespread discontent with mainstream politics.

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