Saturday, May 04, 2013

A plague on all their houses

Nearly a quarter of a century ago, a fringe party sent shockwaves through the political establishment after securing 15pc of the popular vote in the 1989 elections to the European Parliament.

Alas for the Green Party, it could not sustain the momentum of its unexpected success, and by the time of the following general election in 1992, it has sunk back into relative political obscurity.

So the big question in the wake of this week’s local elections is whether the UK Independence Party can succeed in 2013 where the Greens failed all those years ago, and achieve a lasting and significant political breakthrough.

Certainly the signs currently seem positive for Nigel Farage and his crew, who weathered a determined smear campaign by the big parties to emerge as the big winners of Thursday’s poll.

In the North-East, UKIP repeated its surprise second place at the Middlesbrough by-election last November by coming second to Labour in the South Shields contest to choose a successor to David Miliband.

While nobody expected the Conservatives to win here - it has been Labour or Liberal since the Great Reform Act of 1832 – the result was little short of a humiliation for the Coalition parties.

Not only were the Conservatives beaten into third place by Farage and Co, the Liberal Democrats were beaten into seventh place by a ragtag and bobtail collection of independents and fringe parties, including the BNP.

It suggests that, unless they can somehow extricate themselves from the Coalition in time to re-establish themselves as an independent force, the Lib Dems are facing electoral wipeout in the region come 2015.

But while South Shields provided an interesting snapshot of the current state of opinion in the North-East,  UKIP’s strong performance there was but a foretaste of what was to come across the rest of the country.

When last I counted, the party had gained 139 councillors across England compared to a loss of 106 for the Lib Dems and 320 for the Tories.

The political impact was immediate, with a Tory Party that had earlier in the week attempted to brand UKIP as a bunch of racist clowns being forced to eat a very large slice of humble pie.

“It’s no good insulting a political party that people have chosen to vote for,” said Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday, effectively withdrawing his previous claim that UKIP members were “fruitcakes.”

The real headache for Mr Cameron’s Tories is that, with the general election now only two years away, they are no nearer knowing how to deal with the threat of the anti-EU party.

Announcing a referendum on UK membership to be held in the next Parliament was supposed to lance the boil – but Thursday’s results show it has had no effect whatever in curbing support for UKIP.

The situation is likely to get worse for Mr Cameron before it gets better.  Mr Farage entertains legitimate hopes of first place in the popular share of the vote in next year’s Euro-elections, and a strong performance then will give his party even greater momentum going into 2015.

It is already looking very likely that, if TV debates are to be a part of the next general election campaign, the UKIP leader will have to be given a slot.

But if Thursday’s results were bad for the government, they were not a bed or roses for Labour either.

As ever, the party performed strongly in the North-East, holding South Shields and regaining the North Tyneside mayoralty, as well as winning 15 council seats to become the biggest single party in Northumberland and tightening its grip on County Durham.

But nationally, the party’s failure to win outright control of Lancashire and Staffordshire County Councils, or to do better in the South, leave a huge question mark over its ability to win in the key battlegrounds, as well as its claims to be  the ‘One Nation’ party.

On what was a bad night for Mr Cameron, the only saving grace is that it was a not much better one for Ed Miliband.

1 comment:

The World Around Me said...

this was a very interesting article on British politics. I wonder if UKIP will still be as strong come 2015 or if this is just a message to Labour and the Conservatives that the public aren't happy. It is good however to see the rise of third parties in the FPTP system.