UKIP was never going to win any of the three by-elections last night. The mainstream press knew that but happily suggested it might in order that the political and media establishment in the Westminster bubble could say that UKIP had not done as well as expected. UKIP is not a party of the establishment and it will thus get no favours from the established media. The way that papers such as the Telegraph took the spin from the established parties is the sort of dirty trick UKIP will have to get used to as it grows. And it will grow.
I write this not as a UKIP member or indeed committed supporter. Pro tem I am clearly a sympathiser. I think that the party has a good few loons in its ranks. Don’t they all? It strikes me that it can appear not to be libertarian at times on social issues. That may be unfair on it, but it is the impression one gets. However on a range of issues, notably the EU, smoking in public places and deficit reduction it is, for me, bang on the money. And though it wants to have MPs, right now it has nothing to do with the sleaze club of Westminster to which the other three main parties all belong. That is enough to attract my sympathies and I suspect that I am not alone in feeling this way.
Despite the spin of the mainstream parties and their lackeys on Fleet Street, most folks can see that UKIP did incredibly well yesterday. It is a smaller party and so to fight six by-elections in a fortnight must have stretched it in a way that the established parties could manage far more easily. But its activists seem motivated in a way that the troops for the old three parties are not and so UKIP battled through. To secure two seconds and a third yesterday was a triumph. Any party securing almost 22% in a Parliamentary poll as UKIP did in Rotherham has to be taken seriously.
Before looking at UKIP, the polls say a lot about the three older parties. The Lib Dems came 8th in Rotherham and lost two of three deposits. Clearly they can no longer attract protest votes as they are part of Government. The same happened in the late seventies as the Liberals propped up Callaghan’s Government. But these results following the Corby lost deposit are appalling. The last time the Liberals scored this badly their leader was on trial for trying to have his gay lover killed although it was poor Rinka (the dog) that got the bullet instead. Nick Clegg does not have that sort of problem but he is almost as much of a liability as Thorpe. If the coalition delivers Call Me Dave will get the credit and the Lib Dems will be decimated. If the coalition does not deliver both Clegg and Call Me Dave will be blamed and the Lib Dems will be decimated. Perhaps two thirds of Lib Dem MPs must by now be seriously considering what they do after 2015.
Labour should have romped all three contests. But they did not. In Rotherham Joyce Thacker and her PC UKIP child snatchers scored a bit of an own goal for Labour but generally in safe Labour seats there was no great enthusiasm for Labour. Given that the coalition is clearly suffering mid term blues that should be a bit of a worry for Ed Milliband. As for the Conservative Party? Second in Croydon but by a long chalk is some comfort. But third in Middlesbrough and Fifth in Rotherham (beaten not only by UKIP but also by the loons of Respect and the Nazis of the BNP) is shocking. I cannot remember a Governing party doing that badly in a by-election.
The big winner last night, other than UKIP, was “sod the lot of you”. Turnouts of 26%, 26% and 34% suggest most folks just do not care. Most people seem to regard all politicians as sleazy, idle, greedy and out of touch on so many issues. That UKIP has no MPs right now could allow it to tap into the “sod the lot of you” block given the right opportunity.
So where does this leave UKIP. I wonder if there is a by election in Eastleigh (should its sitting MP be forced to stand down) how well it might do. It is the sort of place where one suspects Euroscepticism abounds. The coalition will last until 2015 and so in a Liberal/Tory marginal it does not matter who wins. Why not lend your vote to UKIP? That could be a 2013 boost for Nigel Farage and his troops. The next Euro elections must look like a good bet for another UKIP triumph. UKIP is the only party whose membership (albeit not from a great base) is growing. But it is growing fast.
The irony is that the mainstream parties could neutralise UKIP at the drop of a hat. If all three party leaders announced tomorrow that the Evil Empire had become such an issue that the UK would have a straight in/our referendum next Spring UKIP could campaign for “out” but whatever the result it would be a largely spent force. Just conceivably it could survive if all three party leaders campaigned to stay in (as they would) and the result was a narrow stay in vote, UKIP might even prosper in such circumstances. But I’d hope that with most polls showing we’d vote to leave, that the result would be a win for “out”. At which point it is back to politics of the two party variety with the Lib Dems somewhere on the fringe.
But it seems certain that there will be no referendum pre a 2015 General election. As such, as our relationship with the Evil Empire becomes ever more strained and with no signs that the Westminster elite are becoming less sleazy and out of touch, UKIP has every reason to enter 2013 with a spring in its step. And for all his faults, Farage is the most charismatic party leader of a major party. I admit the competition is not that great. Do you think that you could bear to spend an evening in the pub with Clegg, Milliband or Call Me Dave? No. Me neither. Farage would, I am sure, tell a few jokes, stand his round without putting it on expenses and make good conversation. For an electorate that despises all politicians, the charm of Farage and his earthy jokes are a big asset for UKIP.
Will UKIP ever make a breakthrough at Westminster? I am not sure. In a sense not being associated with one of the most reviled institutions in Britain is a bonus. But will UKIP grow its membership rapidly and continue to spring electoral surprises? Almost certainly yes. It certainly did last night with its 21% in Rotherham and the second place in Middlesbrough.
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