Labelled by the Conservatives as "clowns, loonies and fruitcakes", this week's local elections proved that Ukip are no longer considered a joke in the eyes of the electorate, and the party may well have the potential to radically change the nature of British politics. The party’s popularity was initially dismissed as no more than a protest vote, but after Ukip's recent success, the party is proving that they could be serious players in the 2015 general election.
For the first time ever in the election of local councillors, none of the mainstream parties took more than 30% of the vote. Labour secured 29%, the Tories 25% and the Lib Dems 14%, whilst Ukip stole a number of traditional Tory voters, gaining over 100 seats with 147 councillors, securing more than 25% of the vote.
Ukip's unexpected success in the Eastleigh by-election earlier this year, where the party came second after beating the Conservative candidate Maria Hutchings, was initially considered by many to have been a fluke. However, after an explosion of support in the country's local elections, it is clear that voters are diverting to Ukip and now seriously see them as a credible and respected party. The question is, why are they turning away from the mainstream Westminster parties?
"They can't connect with people out there," commented Ukip's leader, Nigel Farage, after the result. "The change that has happened to people's lives from immigration is extraordinary, but the other parties have nothing to say about it. They make vague promises and don't deliver."
“We have been abused by everybody, the entire establishment, and now they are shocked and stunned that we are getting over 25 per cent of the vote everywhere we stand across the country. This is a real sea-change in British politics."
Concern has evidently spread across Westminster after all three of the main parties performed poorly across the country. The Conservatives lost 337 seats and surrendered control of 10 councils including Oxfordshire, Norfolk and Lincolnshire, whilst Labour failed to gain back the seats they lost under Gordon Brown. The Lib Dems were left damaged after a washout that cost them over 100 councillors and a particular embarrassment in South Shields where their share of the vote dropped from 14% to 1% . Responding to the result after Ukip's gains, Prime Minister David Cameron stated:
"It's no good insulting party people have voted for. We should show respect for those who have voted for them, but we will work really hard to win them back."
Leading Tory figures are now calling for Cameron to acknowledge the threat of Ukip, and are pushing for their leader to take action before the general election. Speaking to the Telegraph, senior Tory David Davis, who previously challenged Cameron for the Conservative leadership, urged the Prime Minister to bring forward the planned EU referendum and to introduce “serious tax breaks” for married couples. In addition, former Conservative Chairman, Lord Tebbit, has called for the party to set an actual date for the EU referendum, believing that this could win back support for the Tories. Tebbit stated that the Conservatives needed to look at Ukip's policies and ask themselves which could appeal to their voters. "There's quite a lot of them", he told the BBC.
Following the same consensus, Grant Shapps, the current Conservative Chairman, said: “We need to grasp the issues people care about. A lot needs to change and we need to change things faster. We have to take some responsibility for failing to get our own message out."
For the time being, there is no doubt that Nigel Farage is optimistic about Ukip's chances of becoming a leading party in Westminster. "What I have always said is that if we establish a bridgehead in the county councils we can have a serious tilt at winning a Westminster seat. We have done that now. I just came into politics to make a change." Britain has called in the clowns, and it's Mr Farage who is having the last laugh.
By Emily Stacey