It’s all but impossible to launch a new political party under America’s electoral arrangements, and extremely easy to do so under Continental proportional representation. The Westminster first-past-the-post system puts the task somewhere in between: tough, but not entirely the realm of fantasy. The Labour party came into being at the dawn of the 20th century, and formed its first government in 1924. The United Kingdom Independence party was born in 1993 and now, a mere two decades later, is on the brink of . . . well, okay, not forming its first government, but it did do eerily well in May’s local elections. The Liberals were reduced to their all-time lowest share of the vote, the Tories to their lowest since 1982, and for the first time ever, none of the three “mainstream” parties cracked 30 percent: Labour had a good night with 29, the Conservatives came second at 25, and nipping at their heels was the United Kingdom Independence party with 23 percent.
They achieved this impressive result against not three opponents but also a fourth — a media that have almost universally derided the party as a sinkhole of nutters and cranks. UKIP’s leader, the boundlessly affable Nigel Farage, went to P. G. Wodehouse’s old high school, Dulwich College, and to a sneering metropolitan press, Farage’s party is a déclassé Wodehousean touring company mired in an elysian England that never was, populated only by golf-club duffers, halfwit toffs, rustic simpletons, and hail-fellow-well-met bores from the snug of the village pub. When I shared a platform with him in Toronto a few months back, Mr. Farage explained his party’s rise by citing not Wodehouse but another Dulwich old boy, the late British comic Bob Monkhouse: “They all laughed when I said I’d become a comedian. Well, they’re not laughing now.”