Over half of the local election results are in, and so far we see UKIP picking up an impressiv number of council seats (139 and counting), running a strong second in many areas (which is impressive but of course delivers no councils or councillors when it happens) and causing mayhem with the fortunes of the other main parties.
Many of the establishment politicians and journalists, who had clearly vested their hopes in the all-out assault on UKIP in the press, have been caught flat-footed and are struggling to agree a line and respond before being overtaken by events when the European election results are announced on Sunday.
Some politicians, who are capable only of showing condescension toward UKIP voters and sympathisers, tried to portray them as victims with neither intelligence or agency, who are primarily economic ‘losers’ with an axe to grind. Labour’s Douglas Alexander epitomised this view on BBC Radio 4 this morning:
I think there is not just a whole group of people who feel left behind by the economy but locked out of politics. ‘There is a deep anger and alienation there and the votes that we have seen for Ukip overnight are in part a reflection of that reality.
But others showed more nuance and tact:
When the left pipes up about Ukip voters’ worries being reducible to either the “cost of living crisis” or a tangle of concerns around job markets and public services, they get nowhere near the whole story … When you meet a Labour-Ukip switcher who expresses worries about immigration, you can’t simply reduce what they say to falling wages and the lack of social housing.
A plurality – including those who know how the main parties behave – clung to the naive belief that the only thing needed is a change of tone and marketing from the main political parties:
The success of Ukip is a direct and inescapable consequence of the abject failure of the mainstream parties to connect with deeply disillusioned voters. It doesn’t need Dave and Ed to light up a fag and be photographed from now on only with a pint of beer in their hands – perish the thought – it just needs them to start talking a language that vaguely resembles the language the rest of us speak.
Of course, this unlikely formula for success relies on the supposition that the establishment politicians can still remember how to speak the same language as the people they supposedly represent, and that the likes of David Cameron and Ed Miliband might suddenly startspeaking frankly and honestly about Britain’s difficulties and opportunities without having their statements parsed and filtered through party-approved talking points.
Some newspapers have at least had the self-awareness and humility to examine their roles in the anti-UKIP onslaught ahead of the polls, acknowledging that the wholesale, scornful vilification of UKIP supporters not only backfired but was actually wrong:
Over the past week or so … something interesting began to emerge … A collective outbreak of sneering, which started to transcend the party itself and blur into a generalised mockery of anyone minded to support it. You could see it most clearly in the rash of satirical(ish) #WhyImVotingUkip tweets that are piling up even now (e.g. “Because I’m uneducated,uncultured, white and old”) and it’s not pretty: an apparent belief that to vote UKIP is to be an idiot of some description, either bigoted or duped, and worthy of little more than contempt.
… if people are supporting Ukip in such large numbers – even after the media’s massed guns have been rattling at it for weeks – it is probably time to drop all the sneering and think about why.
Rod Liddle at The Spectator came out hard against the “London elite” and their attempt to halt UKIP’s progress at all costs:
But it wasn’t just [the BBC], it was a whole bunch of other stuff too. The splenetic fury which the London elite sprays, mindlessly, upon those who do not agree with its views. I’ve fucking had it with these people too, to tell you the truth.
And a commenter at the Spectator expressed his frustration with those national newspapers who are naturally sympathetic to UKIP’s policies but chose to join in the chorus of misinformation and one-sided anti-UKIP coverage:
Nah, what [did] it for me was to see The Sun, The Mail and The Telegraph sticking the boot into Nigel Farage for expressing concerns those papers usually share.
I mean any other day of the week these newspapers are full of immigration stories, Romanian crime gangs etc, but come election time the papers decided to reinvent themselves as metropolitan luvvies backing the establishment parties and pretending Nigel is a dangerous extremist.
The results are still coming in, so it is natural that the party responses (and attempts to lay the blame) are all over the place. But the local council elections clearly have the main political parties (the “legacy parties” to use Nigel Farage’s terminology) spooked, and a convincing first place for UKIP when the European election results are announced on Sunday will really give them reason to pause and look at themselves.
For those of us watching, the fact that the election results are spread out over three days may be a good thing. By the time the European election results come in, the stock answers and meaningless mea culpas of the politicians and the talking heads will have been used up – and they might be forced to start saying what they really think.