The Liberal Democrats pulled off a hard fought victory in the early hours in Eastleigh but it isn’t the story today. The story is UKIP’s surge but not for the reason that you might think.
They received 28% of the vote and beat the Tories into second place. They had a very impressive candidate who didn’t seem very UKIPpy at all. In fact she sounded like a middle of the road Conservative – and this is because she is in fact a middle of the road Conservative. The Tory candidate was far more UKIPpy than Diane was but that isn’t the debate here.
The interesting note coming out of the Eastleigh by-election is that a lot of people who usually don’t vote – did – and they went big for UKIP. For years we have had a significant segment of society who have zero interest in politics and think they are all as bad as the next person but these people were stimulated to actually go to a ballot box on Thursday and vote for a political party that most people thought were a bit of a joke.
If 100% of eligible voters voted in every election then we might get lots of different results. Those who ‘don’t care enough to vote’ are often those with the biggest gripes against the government but don’t see any alternative. Now if suddenly UKIP can put themselves on the side of these people and get them motivated enough to vote then suddenly they are a political force not to be ignored.
I started this blog post thinking about whether we as a country are getting more xenophobic or not on the back of this result. The headlines figures would suggest that maybe we are but maybe it is just those who are xenophobic are now making louder noises and feel that they have someone on their side.
I read the local rag every day and on the ‘letters to the editor’ page one of the most popular things people are seemingly writing in about is about foreigners coming over here and taking jobs and benefits from hard working British folk who are entitled to it. A decade ago it was completely different as this country embraced foreign nationals but as the economy has shrunk so has the countries love of foreigners. The correlation is pretty stark.
Do people not like foreigners or are they just scared that there are not enough jobs to go around? I still think (read: hope) that as a nation we are still pretty liberal but the xenophobes are certainly far more vocal then they used to be. Whether this is because they feel it is more acceptable these days to have these opinions or that they have actually changed over the years I don’t know.
The truth is UKIP are able to engage voters who don’t vote. Yes they are taking votes from the other parties but also picking up fresh voters in their droves might be the most significant thing to come out of the Eastleigh by-election. Lets be honest here – had the Lib Dems not moved the writ for the by-election so quickly then UKIP could easily have won and had their first MP.
The other major parties have to take UKIP seriously now. They have seen they can engage with a significant proportion of the disenfranchised electorate. With more voters hating all politicians the number of these potential protest voters is increasing all the time and if UKIP can persuade them to bother voting then they are a dangerous foe. The fact is that UKIP can now make a good argument to be treated in the media on the same level as the other three main parties despite not having an MP and should they do this – for example in TV debates – then they’ll reap the rewards of the extra exposure.
It was a good hold for the Lib Dems – and one they needed. However the danger of UKIP is greater than we all thought. They won’t just split the Tory vote – they’ll also attract votes from people who previously didn’t vote. That combination if they can continue it could see them in a good position come 2015 but as we all know – plenty can happen in the next two and a half years…
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