Media regulator Ofcom has ruled that Ukip should be classed as a major political party for May's general and local election campaign - guaranteeing it more air time in England and Wales.
The draft decision is vital ahead of the next General Election as it affects party political broadcasts and could also determine who is allowed to take part in TV debates.
In a consultation paper released today Ofcom outlined why Nigel Farage's party is now a major player on the political scene.
The regulator said:
- UKIP has won two seats in Parliament at recent by-elections. UKIP obtained 59.7% of the vote in Clacton on 9 October 2014 and 42.1% in Rochester and Strood on 20 November 2014. We recognised, however, that levels of support indicated by by-election outcomes may reflect specific circumstances that do not necessarily apply to a General Election
- UKIP demonstrated a significant level of support in England and Wales in the European Parliament elections in 2014 (29.2% in England and 27.6% in Wales). UKIP’s share of the vote was lower in Scotland (10.5%)
- UKIP has received significant levels of support in the English local elections (15.7% in 2014 and 19.9% in 2013)
- The opinion poll data indicates that UKIP currently has significant levels of support in England and Wales to the extent that it has the third highest rating in those polls after the Conservative and Labour parties. Opinion poll data in Scotland shows lower levels of current support
Ofcom concludes that "taking together all the evidence, the criteria suggest that UKIP has sufficiently demonstrated evidence of past electoral support and current support to qualify for major party status in England and Wales for the purposes of the elections in 2015."
However the regulator said the Green Party did not qualify for major party status primarily because "it has not demonstrated significant past electoral support in General Elections."
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said she was "deeply disappointed" by the draft Ofcom ruling.
Major political parties on Ofcom's list are guaranteed at least two party election broadcasts on each of the TV and radio channels covered by the system - which does not include the BBC.
The regulator's decision has now been put out for consultation until 5th February.