UKIP’s local election success gives anti-EU party hope of Commons gains in 2015
British politics landscape fracturing: none of the biggest parties won more than 30%
British prime minister David Cameron. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Reuters
Four hundred years ago, Guy Fawkes was tortured and executed for trying to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Yesterday, a namesake, Philip Fawkes, who claims a common bloodline, was elected as a councillor for the UK Independence Party.
Triumphant after local election results which put Ukip with nearly a quarter of the vote in England, Ukip leader Nigel Farage crowed that both Fawkes had “the blood of rebellion” flowing through their veins.
Four years ago, Ukip could count the number of councillors – usually the first targets for parties bidding to build to win Commons seats – on the fingers of two hands, though the numbers increased because of defections.
Today, however, it has nearly 150.
The result has been greeted with near despair among many Conservatives, who argue that Ukip has prospered because it has given the Conservative message – anti-EU, tough on criminals, low taxes –that David Cameron should give but will not.
Early analysis shows that while the party took dozens of seats that had previously been held by the Conservatives, its presence on the ticket cost the Tories hundreds more because their candidates lost out to Labour, or Liberal Democrat challengers.
Because its vote was evenly spread throughout the English local authorities that had elections, Ukip won just one in 12 of the seats up for grabs, even though it won more than one in five of the ballots cast.
It now has the base needed for Commons elections, leading some in Westminster yesterday who have long derided the possibility that the populist anti-EU party could ever win a parliamentary seat to moderate their opinions yesterday.
However, Ukip will not find 2015 so easy. Firstly, its policies – some of which are flaky, most of which are lacking detail – will be put under the microscope now in a way that has never happened before, but it cannot be assumed that the party will fail the test.
Equally, its newly elected councillors have two years to copperfasten a relationship with voters in hundreds of constituencies if they remain disciplined, sensible and visible between now and the general election in 2015.
However, Ukip enjoyed a lot of “soft” endorsement from Britain’s right-wing press, who are happy to put manners on Cameron mid-term, though their support two years hence is far more questionable, but it will be useful to push the Conservatives towards an even more anti-EU agenda.
Perhaps, however, the most striking thing about the local elections is that it is the first time in British political history that none the three biggest parties in the Commons have managed to win more than 30 per cent of the vote.