Politicians of all stripes have used Ukip’s success in two by-elections last week to rush further to the right.
In Clacton former Tory MP Douglas Carswell became Ukip’s first elected MP, with a majority of over 12,400 and nearly 60 percent of the vote. And in Greater Manchester’s Heywood and Middleton constituency Ukip came a close second to Labour.
Just hours after the results were announced David Cameron
promised new powers to block immigration from the European Union. And Labour leader Ed Miliband said his party needed to address “specific concerns” about immigration.
Carswell’s election was bad enough, but the result in Heywood and Middleton is an even bigger warning shot.
There Ukip attracted a right wing vote that had previously been divided between different parties.
Its share of the vote shot up by 36 percent while the Tories’ dropped by 15 percent and the Lib Dems’ fell by 18 percent.
Labour’s share of the vote went up by a tiny amount. But Labour utterly failed to motivate big numbers of voters to turn out and support it. The party had a majority of 6,000 in the constituency in 2010. This time it was just 617.
Most people didn’t leap at the chance to vote for Ukip. The turnout was just 36 percent. But the dismal failure of mainstream parties to attract voters helped boost Ukip.
Politicians and pundits have puzzled over why millions of people feel disillusioned with mainstream politics. But that disillusion is no surprise.
Without a hint of irony London mayor Boris Johnson said Ukip was gaining “because voters felt they were not being given a proper choice”.
Mainstream commentators lined up to decry the fact that many people voted, yet saw no difference in their lives as a result. It was as if they’d only just noticed.
As Ukip leader Nigel Farage realises, “People want change, they have had enough of career politicians in three parties.”
Mainstream politicians have legitimised the racism that feeds Ukip. They are the ones who have repeatedly said what is supposedly “unsayable” by attacking migrants.
The utter failure of Labour to offer a real alternative to the Tories has fed the feeling that no party speaks for working class people. Ukip poses as anti-establishment to capitalise on that.
The Tories are in a crisis over the rise of Ukip. Old divisions over Europe have once again come to the fore. Some claim Cameron will face a leadership challenge if Ukip wins another MP.
It is in the Tories’ interest to play up their own crisis—and the threat that it will lead to a Labour victory. They want to discipline their supporters from straying to Ukip. But their crisis is real nonetheless.
There is rightly widespread anger at the mainstream politics they represent. The tragedy is that, for the moment, right wing forces are benefiting from it.