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The UKIP Tremor

Tim Stanley reacts to the U.K. Independence Party’s successful by-election night:

Douglas Carswell has won a hotly contested battle to replace Douglas Carswell as MP for Clacton. That was expected. What was less expected was Ukip also coming within 600 votes of beating Labour in Heywood and Middleton. On Thursday night, Ukip humiliated both the Conservatives and Labour. With a new member of Parliament, elected with a massive 60 per cent of the vote, it has finally entered the mainstream of our political life and can no longer be laughed off as a parody of Middle England neuroses. They are a serious threat to what the denizens of Westminster hold most dear – their jobs.

The embarrassment for the Labour Party is in some respects worse, since Carswell’s defection had already set him up to be the favorite in the election last night, and everyone covering the story had expected him to win for some time. No one outside the UKIP seriously expected a close race for the other seat. That result has now drawn more attention to Labour’s growing difficulty in holding on to and rallying many of its traditional supporters after having spent the better part of the last two decades ignoring them, and that is just one of the party’s multiplying problems under its leader Ed Miliband. John O’Sullivan calls what is happening in Britain the “Revolt of the Neglected,” and that is certainly a large part of it. The major parties can dismiss a significant part of the electorate for only so long before it comes back to haunt them. Another factor that Stanley identifies is the divide between the rest of the country and London, which both the UKIP and the SNP have turned to their advantage:

But one thing can keep the Ukip coalition bound together: the culture war. It’s hard to put one’s finger on, but there’s a growing divide in this country between the London metropole and everywhere else – a divide reflected in the Scottish nationalist rebellion as well as the purple tide. It’s not really a matter of substantive policy but of style and tone. Ukip represents those who look at the three main parties – parties of wealth, social liberalism, multiculturalism, suits and ties and faint disdain for anything old and traditional – and sees a species apart.

More to the point, these are the people that are perceived by the leaders of the major parties and at least some of their supporters in London as rather alien. Their disdain isn’t just for “anything old and traditional,” but for the people that value those things, and it is often not so faint. These are the voters that (correctly) perceive that they are viewed with contempt or at least with indifference by those that claim to represent them, and they return the sentiment.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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