Ukip prepares to break political mould

Farage awaits disenchanted Labour as well as Conservative MPs

Every September, thousands of horse- racing fans gather in Doncaster for the St Leger, the world’s oldest horse race and the final classic of the British flat season.

On Saturday, scores of UK Independence Party members, pints in hand, looked up to the Lazarus Stand at the racecourse, rather than out onto the track to cheer on their latest favourite.

High above, Mark Reckless (right), a Conservative MP until an hour before, struggled to complete television interviews above the chants of "Nigel, Nigel, Nigel" or "Ukip, Ukip, Ukip".

For two days, more than 2,000 party delegates had gathered, never more confident than now that they are on the point of breaking every mould in British politics.

Reckless' defection had long been speculated about, but he had said just a month ago that a Conservative government was the only way to get a European Union membership referendum.

On Saturday, Nigel Farage, who is developing a habit of orchestrating political theatre, stood before his cheering supporters, who cheered even louder when he gave them the latest polling figures.

Reckless gamble

In

Boston

and Skegness in Lincolnshire, or Thurrock in

Essex

, Ukip is now leading, while it is a serious contender in South Thanet in Kent, or Eastleigh in Hampshire, the numbers claim.

Then he produced Reckless, and the packed hall went wild. Unlike former Conservative MP, Douglas Carswell, who is running for Ukip in Clacton in Essex, Reckless has taken a gamble.

His constituency in Rochester and Stroud – “filled with aspirational professional people”, he said, rather too honestly, perhaps – has not been a Ukip target seat.

Indeed, it is not in the top 100 of such seats, even though Reckless, an out-and-out Eurosceptic, has always been one who looked as if he would be more at home in Ukip than the Conservatives.

Carswell’s expected victory in Clacton next month will give Ukip its first elected Commons seat, though it is downplaying talk that it can do the same in the Labour-held Heywood and Middleton byelection.

Reckless will now resign his seat, provoking another by-election – which, depending on whether he wins, or loses, or by how much he wins, or loses, could provoke other Conservative defectors.

David Cameron now faces the nightmare that the coming months – time needed to lay-out his election platform – could be pockmarked by a series of destabilising by-elections.

However, Cameron is not the only one to worry. Again and again, Ukip speakers railed against Labour for failing to represent white working-class communities.

"The problem that Labour MPs have is that they don't like the people they represent in places like Doncaster," one Ukip delegate told The Irish Times, "They are metropolitan elites, and these people aren't."

Illustrating the gulf, north of England Labour MP, Michael Dugher warned that Labour has lost touch with the kind of voter who put up at St George's flag in their garden.

The Clacton and Heywood byelections will be held on October 9th. It is also David Cameron’s birthday, Farage reminded his audience, urging them to give him a birthday to remember.

Possible Labour defectors

Miliband’s nightmare, even if the odds are against it for now, is that north of England MPs worried about their seats could defect. Almost as damaging, are rumours about such defections.

The Conservatives want to campaign on an improving economy and Labour’s rickety reputation for managing it. Labour, meanwhile, wants to focus on the National Health Service and living costs.

Ukip, however, targets visceral feelings: especially immigration – not just because society is changing, but because of the wage curbs that eastern European unskilled labour has brought about.

As always, the EU features highly, but, significantly, most of all because it is blamed as the vehicle for unlimited immigration.

Such arguments and campaign tactics will not play everywhere, but Ukip does not need them to do so. Planning to run candidates everywhere, it will, in reality, target about 25 seats.

In places such as Thurrock or Rotherham such arguments will find ears. And David Cameron and Ed Miliband know it.

Mark Hennessy is London Editor

READ MORE