There is nothing as frustrating and sad, as watching and listening to politicians burying their heads in the sand in the hope that an unpleasant situation will, somehow, pass them by. Yesterday, the two main news stations on television were in fierce competition parading politicians from the three traditional parties, in front of the camera to explain and in most cases dismiss, how it was that a political party which has no base in Westminster, has no well oiled organisation and was, until yesterday at least, derided as “clowns” and “fruitcakes”, could come from nowhere to claim 25% of the vote and gain more than 140 seats to hold 147 at the end of the day. Admittedly, the overall turnout was quite low at less than 40%, but never the less, 25% of the votes cast is a significant number of people. No matter what Gove, Hughes, Chuka Umunna, Cable, Harman, Cameron, Clegg or any of the others may say to spin out reality, yesterday was a bad day for the three traditional parties.
Even more worryingly, they were as one when resorting to the usual meaningless clichés of having to listen to the people, explain their policies, re connect with the public, ensure that lessons are learned, and all the other tired old phrases which always see daylight following parliamentary by-elections or local council elections.
Paradoxically of course each of the party spokespersons are able to explain away, (at least to their own satisfaction) how the result was, on balance, quite a good result for their own party. Taking first prize in this charade was Simon Hughes, who was able to convince himself, if not his audience, that the Liberal Democrat vote held up quite well, with the party holding on to many of their seats in the west Country and coming second in many others. The fact that the Liberal Democrats lost over 130 seats across the country was conveniently passed over.
No matter what personal political views anyone may have, the fact remains that UKIP had a very good day and have struck a chord with significant numbers of people around the country. UKIP councillors now have seats in many of the County Halls in the United Kingdom, as well as seats in the European parliament. Next year there are European elections, with a UK general election in 2015. Yesterday's result was an indication of many things. Some elements of “Protest” votes quite probably, but not sufficient in itself to create such a dramatic shift in voter preference. To dismiss this 25% poll showing as a “flash in the pan” and to “confidently predict that this will never happen again” as one Tory commentator come politician did in a live interview on BBC, is taking wishful thinking to an absurd level. Never say never as someone once remarked.
There has been a realignment on the right of British politics and the politicians of the traditional parties would be well advised to recognise it. With the present “First past the post” voting system in this country, UKIP would have little chance of turning their percentage share of the votes into parliamentary seats in Westminster, albeit that the Liberal Democrat have consistently had less than 25% vote share since 1983, but have still managed to convert that into seats in the House of Commons.
However, between now and 7 May 2015 (except in the event of a two-thirds majority of MPs voting for an early election), it is not beyond the realms of possibility that support for “the 4th Party” will increase to such an extent as to ensure that the make up of the Commons will be very different from that which we see today.