There is a worrying consensus among the British electorate, the idea that it would make no difference to them whether Labour or the Conservatives enter Government after next year's General Election. To a growing number of voters, it simply does not matter if it is Ed Miliband who steals the keys to Number 10 next May, or David Cameron. Except it does matter. It matters hugely. Not least because if one is thinking of voting for UKIP in an act of rebellion, you can bet that others are thinking the same. This is why many traditional voters are deserting the three main Westminster parties, voting for UKIP, the Greens and even smaller independent forces who many believe may deliver where others have failed to. All this makes you wonder whether UKIP, a group once dismissed as a collection of “fruitcakes,” really could hold the balance of power next year.
The threat of UKIP has gone way beyond concern amongst the Westminster elite, not eased following Mark Reckless's triumph at the Rochester and Strood by-election this week. Nigel Farage's party now have two MPs in Westminster, two former Conservatives, who like their supporters, have despaired with the rhetoric of political promises. Although the Conservatives are suffering from their second defeat to UKIP, Labour have just as much to fear from the rise of Farage's crew as the Tories.
Significantly, Mr Reckless was able to take his seat in Rochester largely with the support of former Labour voters. Speaking to the BBC, one member of the public commented how he had always been a Labour man, but not any more. His despair was genuine, no acting required. Another stated: "UKIP talk a good talk, so let's see if they can put it into practice". 'Why not? May as well...' was the predominant feeling among the residents interviewed.
A further blow to Labour was Emily Thornberry’s highly misjudged tweeted photo of a traditional British home that displayed a collection of St George's flags with a white van parked outside. Seen to be mocking the patriotism in Rochester, Thornberry has since resigned from the shadow cabinet following the uproar. Indeed, "England flags and white vans are Labour values," commented Labour's John Mann, identifying why many of the party's traditional supporters are leaving to jump on board UKIP's bandwagon.
If it's true that a large section of the British public do not believe that a Conservative or a Labour Government would make a difference to their everyday lifestyles, then there is every reason to be on watch for the escalation of UKIP. Commenting after the election of his party's second MP, Mr Farage told the BBC's Nick Robinson that when it comes to the next election: "All bets are off...the whole thing's up in the air."
Although UKIP have some way to go before they have even the slightest possibility of genuinely holding the balance of power in Parliament, after a second by-election victory, the party are quickly beginning to believe that with the help of the growing number of disenchanted voters, the impossible might just be possible.
By Emily Stacey