‘Go to bed with Farage, wake up with Miliband’, stated David Cameron at the beginning of the month. Frightening imagery. However the result of the Clacton by-election, UKIP winning 59.75% of the vote and almost securing a second seat at Heywood and Middleton may suggest that going to bed with Farage may have you waking up with Farage (still not fond of the imagery).
Labour merely retained Heywood and Middleton, the by-election triggered by the death of Jim Dobbin. UKIP were only 2.2% behind, having experience a 36.1% swing in favour. It is the Clacton by-election which harms Cameron most, as defector from the Conservatives to UKIP, Douglas Carswell, retained his seat.
The 9th October marked a historic day for UKIP in winning their first ever seat in parliament. Carswell has held that seat since 2005 and has only ever witnessed growth in voter support since then. His switch of political allegiance may merely be indicative of support for him as an individual rather than as a representative of any particular party. That is not to say that the UKIP victory is not symbolic. It shows that the public are not concerned with having a UKIP representative. A 44% swing from the Conservatives, the result may be a refreshing move from party politics to taking note of MPs as individuals.
Farage has certainly celebrated, visiting the House of Commons himself to see Carswell take his seat, claiming in his pride that it was his first visit to the House since he was 17.
Having held its controversial figures in the past such as Godfrey Bloom’s ‘Bongo Bongo Land’ and referring to women as ‘sluts’ comments and David Silvester’s linking heavy floods to homosexuals, UKIP has been easy to pass off. But as Farage ruthlessly shed such provocateurs and acquired more politically moderate allies it’s not impossible that the party has more success to follow.
As another Conservative defector, Mark Reckless, could be the next UKIP MP after the Rochester by-election on 20th November, it may be that in the months to come, having consistently outpolled the Liberal Democrats, UKIP could stand a genuine chance in being the United Kingdom’s third-largest party as of 2015 both inside as well as outside of parliament.
Sometimes considered a party owing its success purely to Farage, UKIP’s leader not standing for a seat next year will see his role in operations transform as he holds the potential to pulls strings in parliament from the outside.
Yet beyond having a strong chance of winning a handful of seats in the next election, the larger consequences are blurry. The Liberal Democrats stand to lose a lot, but so do the Conservatives if there are a large number of split votes in constituencies, which would benefit no one but Labour. The result of Clacton has perhaps been most disappointing for Labour who had held Clacton until 2005 and on the 9th obtained 11.2% of the vote. Academics, Goodwin and Ford, have studies the repercussions of UKIPs presence and have claimed that in actuality Labour may suffer heavily from Farage ‘winning over working-class, white male voters…(who) feel left behind by Britain’s rapid economic and social transformation’.
In recent years it has been tempting to dismiss UKIP, as David Cameron had initially done, as ‘fruitcakes’, but now, as Cameron uses pseudo-sexual remarks on the consequences of voting for Farage as a means to retain the right, it is quite clear that UKIP have won a battle not so easy to dismiss.