Two weeks ago today, the results of the European elections were out, and Ukip were all over the media. Nigel Farage was crowing about a political earthquake, and pundits were extrapolating the results of the local and European elections to a general election and coming up with scarey results. On the Monday I saw messages from two friends who were taking this hard. One texted, in response to a “How are you?”, that she did not think she would be alright for several years; the other posted on Facebook that she was too depressed to get out of bed.
Now, first of all I should say that both of these friends have an absolute right to be upset and worried about the election results. They both come from backgrounds which give them good reason to fear extremism. And I agree with them that there is good reason to be fearful. But I don’t think we are on the verge of a political earthquake, and here’s why.
Last week we had the Newark byelection, which arose because of the resignation of the sitting Conservative MP due to allegations of sleaze. This is a byelection that should have given UKIP a very good chance of a win. The resigning MP is allegedly connected with the sort of pork-barrel politics which voters hate, so a vote for good old UKIP, the voice of old-fashioned British decency and common sense, the enemies of the existing cronyist systems, should be a good bet, shouldn’t it? The byelection comes straight after the UKIP “triumph” in the local and European elections, so they should be riding a wave. And, finally, it’s a byelection, that traditional home of gesture politics, protest votes and weird results in the interests of teaching the incumbent government not to get too smug. Despite all these things, however, UKIP did not win. They didn’t even come close. True, the Conservative vote was halved, but that’s no unusual thing in byelections. And even taking this into account, UKIP were still thousands of votes off a win.
Quite clearly, this was no surprise to Mr Farage. There was a minor media flurry when the byelection came up and the press speculated that he might stand, to which he responded by pretending to consult with his advisers and then hastily announcing that he preferred to concentrate on the European elections, or some such tosh. Despite John Prescott instantly accusing him of being a chicken, he is clearly not a chicken. He is, despite his carefully cultivated “breath of fresh air” image, just as much of a political operator as anyone, and he clearly knew that UKIP hadn’t a hope in hell of winning. This was borne out by the fact that he made precisely one visit to the constituency during the campaign and left for a holiday in Malta before polling day. And UKIP duly lost.
Interesting. Very interesting. More tomorrow.