The counting may not be over, but the result of Britain’s local elections seems pretty clear: the country is now a four-party state. The UK Independence Party is projected to win at least a quarter of votes. They’ve been labelled “patriots” by their supporters and “racists” by their detractors. So what does UKIP’s rise mean for Britain?
When a vote is not a vote
Well first off, voting for UKIP does not mean that people are voting for UKIP, odd as that may sound. While most often the party takes votes from Conservative areas, it seems that the Liberal Democrats and Labour also lost seats to them. Many voters have lost confidence in politics and politicians, so when UKIP comes along and offers a shake-up, people like the sounds they make.
The UK economy is barely growing compared to many other developed economies and the ruling coalition is taking a beating for it. Economic malaise is not necessarily the government’s fault, but an increasing number of people feel the best they can hope for is to avoid a triple-dip recession…forget growth.
The result? UKIP is being used as a protest vote, very much as the Lib Dems once were.
Stealing our thunder?
However, Britain is shifting to the right. The European Union is increasingly blamed for British problems and Prime Minister David Cameron has been forced into promising an in-out referendum on EU membership after the 2015 election (should he win).
First and foremost, UKIP stands for leaving the EU. They haven’t thought much beyond that, it often seems, but many Brits haven’t either. Overwhelming evidence points to likely economic disaster should the UK leave the European Union, but the same is true for global warming and we’re still all heading for deep water (literally).
UKIP isn’t just a protest vote. It also shows how the mood is changing in British politics.
Out with the coloured folk
Is UKIP actually racist? No. An organisation can’t be racist. But it’s members can. UKIP has repeatedly kicked out people affiliated with the (very much racist) British National Party, indicating that it does attract some extreme right wing views. A Guardian study found that just over half of UKIP members thought racial diversity was a bad thing for Britain and over a third thought that sending immigrants back to their home country regardless of criminality was a good idea. Take this with a pinch of salt, though, given that the Guardian is very left wing.
UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, who is also a Member of the European Parliament (and largely hated in Brussels) repeatedly asserts that his party is not racist. Here’s the local election manifesto and general statement of principles if you want to have a look for yourself.
UKIP could be a threat to the other main parties in the 2015 general election, although their support does not clump in constituencies. Mr Farage insists that, as the Green Party has done in Brighton, building a strong base in local areas is the first step towards getting a seat in parliament (which UKIP still lacks). But a lot can happen in two years. If I were you, I’d keep an eye on the economy.
Bottom line: the local elections were a disaster for the Tories, Labour and (particularly) the Lib Dems. That’s no surprise, but there’s a lot of work to do if they want to win in 2015.
PS It’s a wonderful irony that a distant descendant of Guy Fawkes (who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament) won a seat for UKIP and might stand for parliament.