Nigel Farage’s eurosckeptic UKIP has just had a good night. Special elections in three British parliamentary seats have produced some impressive results for his party. To be sure, UKIP got a boost from a scandal over the mistreatment of some UKIP-supporting foster-parents (and their foster-children) in Rotherham, the turnout was low and special elections are traditionally a time for protest votes. Nevertheless UKIP came second in Rotherham, and the Tory came fifth. UKIP also came second in Middlesbrough, another constituency in the north of England (the Conservative was fourth), and third in yet another vote—this time in the South—behind the Tories, but ahead of their Liberal Democrat coalition partners.
Dan Hannan, a Conservative member of the European Parliament (and a star of the recent NR cruise) frets in the Daily Telegraph that in “parts of northern England where the Conservatives have never had much presence, UKIP is becoming the main urban anti-Labour alternative.” Also in the Daily Telegraph, Tim Stanley notes this:
Ukip is only supposed to be a middle class, ex-Tory vote – the golf club fringe of conservatism. But Rotherham isn’t Tunbridge Wells; it’s northern and working class. By doing so well in a traditionally Labour area, the party has proven to its sceptics that its support is truly national. The populist revolt is bigger and wider than many anticipated.
Of course, Ukip was helped by the fostering scandal that rocked Rotherham and, briefly, made everyone feel a dash of sympathy. However, its charismatic leader, Nigel Farage, has also done a great job of exploiting long term memories of Labour’s incompetence and short term anger at David Cameron’s vacillating centrism. By establishing itself as the fourth party, Ukip has started to replace the Lib Dems as the “go to” vote for those protesting the status quo.
The operative word is “started”, but if I were David Cameron I would be very, very worried.
If he is, he is not showing it. After the Rotherham scandal broke, a spokesman for 10 Downing Street retracted Cameron’s (much) earlier claim that UKIP was “racist, mostly” only to un-retract the retraction later on.
Not very fair. Not very smart.