The Corner

Large Earthquake in U.K.—Not Many Conventional Pieties Left Standing

Last night UKIP was expected to win the Clacton by-election easily and to lose the “safe” Labour seat in the Heywood and Middleton by-election by a substantial margin. Well, at 1:36 a.m. local time, UKIP lost Heywood and Middleton by a whisker — 617 votes — and reduced the Labour majority by about 90 percent. I could list a slew of other statistics — UKIP’s total, for instance, was about twice the total of Tory, Lib-Dem, and Green votes added together — but you can take it from me that they all favor UKIP and are an embarrassment to the main parties.

Labour is stricken mainly because it is suddenly threatened in its northern stronghold by the insurgent party it has dismissed until now as a bunch of Tory refugees from Cameronism. It’s a terrible result for Labour leader Ed Miliband who is almost a caricature of the metropolitan liberal Left that has lost touch or even sympathy with the traditional working class Labour constituency. Miliband must now face the possibility of a challenge to his leadership even though the next general election is only eight months away. 

But the Heywood and Middleton result was almost as bad for Tory leader David Cameron. The boast of UKIP’s deputy leader Paul Nuttall that UKIP was now “the official opposition to Labour in the North” rang true — and it’s a more formidable opposition than the Tories who are close to vanishing in such seats. That allowed UKIP to turn the main Tory attack on the new party — namely, that a vote for UKIP would help Miliband into Downing Street — against its inventors.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage developed this argument after the Heywood result:

“The truth of what has happened in the North today is that if you are anywhere north of Birmingham, if you vote Conservative you get Labour. And the reason we haven’t won up there, despite a fantastic campaign, is that too many people have stuck with the Conservatives, not recognizing that UKIP is now the challenger to Labour in every urban seat in the north of England.”

That’s an exaggeration, of course; the Tories still hold a lot of Northern constituencies. But it’s an exaggeration of a truth, and less and less of an exaggeration with every new by-election.

That was the picture even before the Clacton result — which was expected to show a large UKIP victory, a collapse in the Tory vote, and the rest nowhere in a southern constituency with its own brand of economic distress. And Clacton’s result is now in — UKIP has won the seat with a majority of more than 12,000 and 60 percent of the votes cast.

What’s happening is a Revolt of the Neglected. The metropolitan establishment has no idea of how to deal with it. And it’s gathering steam.

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