Despite Nigel Farage’s frustration about the ruining of his party conference I doubt it will reduce UKIP’s vote. However, if this continues public perceptions of what UKIP is and what they stand for will start to shift.
The main problem from UKIP’s perspective is that they will not be able to have the reach they wanted. As Farage said, the conference became about MEP Godfrey Bloom’s disgraceful comments and not about policy discussion or advertising ukip. The main event for the media at conference was Bloom.
Turning to UKIP’s vote, people who said they will vote for UKIP probably still will. If nothing else Bloom’s behaviour shows a real human being. To me it sounded like a real person talking, it sounded very natural because it was used as a friendly (grossly inappropriate) joke, it sounded like something that a (usually) old sexist relative might say. The thing is, that most people like seeing or hearing someone who is a real human, it sounds obvious but far too many politicians don’t come across like fellow humans.
Another factor in all of this is that those who plan to vote UKIP are largely the non-voting, dissatisfied electorate. It’s safe to assume that non-voters are probably going to be less interested in politics probably paying less attention to any political news meaning they might miss the news anyway. This effect is further magnified by the fact that the left will dwell on this event for longer than the right.
As to how it will effect their wider electoral prospects, if these stunts continue UKIP’s behaviour will restrict them to the fringes of politics. They will grab the BNP’s vote share but the more mild Conservatives (who they need to win over) will probably find the behaviour of UKIP distasteful. Godfrey Bloom’s behaviour is problematic for UKIP because it is the behaviour they need to be dissociated from, it makes them look like dinosaurs if a bygone era. Previously as a single issue party they got away with this behaviour but with hopes of gaining MPs and with that a great many more councillors, they need to be able to survive the scrutiny that other mainstream political parties face.
Of course the other important angle on all of this is that they have gained some more publicity. It has further raised awareness of the party and Farage has been able to plug some policy at the same time with the line “What this conference should have been about was…”. But if even a little of this is motivated by publicity the question becomes: how long will it take before these stunts start to really damage the party image and shift public perceptions?