Ever since the declaration of by-elections in both Clacton and Heywood & Middleton, it was clear that their results would determine two things once and for all. Firstly, just how much support UKIP could maintain in their efforts to gain real influence in Parliament and, secondly, the size and reality of Labour’s slump.
Polled to win by a potential 30% margin, Douglas Carswell was most likely safe in the knowledge that he was to become a UKIP elected MP in Clacton last night. However, his eventual victory of 59.7%, with a 51% turnout, is a result that will ruffle some already greying feathers in Westminster. UKIP’s surge in popularity has long been seen as a nuisance to both the Conservative Party and Labour, and this resounding victory in Clacton will surely act as a strong confirmation to the Tories that more needs to be done to win back alienated right-wing voters. David Cameron must decide whether he will let the right of his party slide into despondency for the sake of his centrist direction, or whether more noticeable right-wing politicies must be used to claw back the vast core of Conservative support that has been lost over recent years.
It could be argued, on the other hand, that despite the drama of a former Conservative MP providing UKIP with a seat in Parliament, much of last night’s spotlight was in fact on the Labour Party. Winning with a majority of 5,971 votes in Heywood & Middleton in 2010, Labour has undoubtedly taken a big hit when one considers last night’s majority of only 617 votes. This signified a 2.2% lead for Liz McInnes, Labour’s ‘winning’ candidate, who was, embarrassingly, met with laughter from the audience upon declaring that such a result equated to support for Ed Miliband. Significantly, it must be noted which party was trailing only 2.2% behind in the Labour heartland of Greater Manchester. Despite often baldly contradicting socialist ideology, UKIP managed to gain an incredible 38.7% of the vote. This will certainly frighten Labour, who are already rapidly losing working class votes and trying to resolve the problem of Miliband’s plummeting popularity – otherwise known as the ‘Odd Miliband Problem’.
With UKIP slowly, but increasingly visibly, gaining a foothold in the North, and Carswell jubilantly providing them with a seat in Parliament, there exists a clear echo of May’s European Parliament election fright, where UKIP shook up the previously dominant parties, whipping both the Conservatives and Labour Party with a 27.5% win. Such results can of course be linked to disillusionment with traditional party politics and the so-called ‘Westminster bubble’. They can too - like the European Parliament election results - be shrugged off by politicians as protest votes or mere populism. However, with what are now consistent electoral victories, is it time that we, like Carswell, recognise a “profound change in British politics”, and start taking UKIP as a serious contender in our political system?
By Elena Attfield