One way to think of UKIP is as a bunch of Elizabethan freebooting privateers, who are now revelling after having sailed into northern and Midland ports and lain waste to Labour‘s formerly secure golden hoard of working class voters.
As Gerry Lynch spotted on election night, the figure which gives you a real indication of what has happened to UK politics is that the combined percentages of Conservatives and UKIP add up to 49.5.
The broad assumption always was that UKIP was a right wing affair and would only negatively effect the Tories and that Labour sitting safely (not to say smugly) on the left would move in and pick up the pieces.
In fact what happened was two fold.
First, UKIP helped cripple many Liberal Democrats who had been sitting comfortably above the flood line of the much hated First Past the Post system by striking at the base of their vote thus bringing them below the level of FPTP viability.
Second the party has now amassed large seat totals in traditional Labour strongholds demonstrating that the party’s populist messaging has an appeal right across the country.
Whilst Farage failed to win Thanet South, UKIP took control of Thanet District Council on gains from Labour. Such gains at council level give UKIP representative and party structures much closer to the ground just in time for the Referendum.
Tim Black on Spiked Online captures this aspect:
As William Cash, UKIP’s candidate for Warwickshire North – Labour’s No1 target marginal – put it: ‘The reason the Tories have won the key battleground of the Midlands is that UKIP came to their rescue. We rode into the flanks of the white working class and captured them [from Labour].’
And this is a key insight…
Where the focus-grouped messaging of Labour’s policy wonkers falls flat, UKIP resonates. It talks in a recognisable language, and it addresses not just people’s economic insecurities, with immigration to the fore, but also their cultural insecurities, too.
UKIP addresses the all-too-recognisable sense that society seems to be being remade in another’s image, the sense that longstanding social traditions and informal rituals, from marriage to smoking in a pub, are just so much material for state-driven, EU-justified reform.
Where Labour speaks at people, UKIP, with Farage to the fore, speaks to them.
Yes, quite. And it is a point that we on Slugger have made here before. Black closes with an important comparison, ie with SNP in Scotland.
Each may differ in their attitude towards the EU, but they are both on different issues concerned with the politics of culture and separation. The UKIP creed is also far more populist than the SNP, but their messages are similarly reductionist and simple to consume.
They both operate in non linear populist ways which are much more in line with the fracturing public space than the stayed (and careerist) London Labour machine. For both manifesto takes second place to a big and uncomplicated idea capable of moving large swathes of public sentiment.
Closer to home David McNarry, the party’s only MLA in Northern Ireland, has a point when he says that the party’s chances are pretty good in Northern Ireland. Not least because the Eurosceptic voice is generally in tune with sentiment on the Unionist side of the house.
South Down and East Antrim all provide opportunities for a UKIP breakthrough in next year’s Assembly election, and ahead of an in out Referendum, where transfers from other Eurosceptic parties could bring others through.
And what of Nigel’s phantom resignation? Well, every populist cause must have its icon and its leader. To UKIP and its legion of fans, Farage is Fidel and Che all rolled into one. No Nigel, no UKIP. Simples.
Roll out the barrel for 2017…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty