By rights and in keeping with electoral convention, in the first County Council election results that were announced on Thursday night, UKIP should only have managed to win a handful of seats.
To have won 42 seats before the main bulk of the contests have even begun counting, against a backdrop of a concerted smear operation by the Conservatives against UKIP candidates and the absence of anything that could be fairly described as an effective UKIP local organisation, is a stunning result. This reveals the depth of voter anger with the mainstream parties runs far deeper than perhaps even we realised.
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg will be very fearful men this morning and with good reason. Make no mistake, if the UKIP advance continues with the results to be announced on Friday this election, and the forthcoming European elections in which UKIP were already expected to do well, could represent a game changer in national politics ahead of the 2015 General Election. The results could be that significant.
An unexpectedly high tally of seats to accompany a strong percentage of the overall vote is likely to bring about several things. Firstly, UKIP can expect more scrutiny, but significantly more air time and coverage in the media to present their narrative – albeit in need of urgent improvement and cohesion. This will result in more potential voters taking a look at the alternative to the mainstream parties, which could lift UKIP’s support even higher.
Secondly, with something now approaching a local base developing, we can expect to see an increase in dissatisfied Conservative councillors defecting to UKIP, as they become confident they have a fighting chance of still being re-elected outside the Tory umbrella. Don’t underestimate the vested self interest of electoral prospects informing the decision making of councillors, many of whom are sick to the back teeth of Cameron’s evisceration of conservative principles and policies.
Thirdly, with wider coverage and evidence that UKIP can win seats promoting more confidence, party membership can expect to increase in the coming months. Crucially for UKIP this would also result in more money – and there could now be a real prospect that some current Tory donors might consider switching their money to UKIP, as electoral success from virtually no base will show their cash could be used to achieve some tangible success.
Fourth, the EU referendum strategy, which Cameron has developed around the idea of batting it away into the long grass beyond the next General Election – and only then if the Conservatives win, which is now looking a more distant prospect – is likely to unravel. Internal pressure within the Conservative party to address the issue much sooner in an effort to arrest UKIP’s progress, will be deafening as the non-wets assert themselves with electoral evidence of the strength of their argument.
In politics, momentum should never be underestimated. A combination of opposition to EU membership, anger over immigration, and the opportunity to protest against the cosy mainstream political stitch up and reject the main parties, has given UKIP momentum.
What matters now is how it’s used. As this blogger has always maintained, with Farage at the helm things have the capacity to fall apart quickly and people might find the party is all fur coat and no knickers. There are a number of risks but two in particular that stand out.
First, that the lack of cohesion on policy due to Farage’s refusal/incapacity to ‘do detail’ results in contradictory statements and voting which embarrass the party. Second, that Farage’s autocratic control of the party, which because of its relative size makes him more powerful comparatively than Cameron is over his Tories, means some unsavoury candidates have slipped through the net and as they are exposed – make no mistake, the media poodles will pore over them continually – they bring the party into disrepute. There is a greater than average chance that UKIP proves to be its own worst enemy for the reasons this blog and others have trailed for many months.
We now wait to see what Friday’s results bring.