People have been pretty sceptical about the opinion poll ratings of UKIP, which have been putting the party at around 8%, and level pegging with the Liberal Democrats. Could the party really eclipse the Lib Dems to become Britain’s third party?
In the local elections yesterday, UKIP didn’t just gain 8%. In the seats where they stood, they gained an average of 13% of the vote. Doing some reasonable maths on the results suggests that as many as a fifth of normally Conservative voters have switched to UKIP.
True, because of Britain’s biassed electoral system, UKIP didn’t add any to their tally of councillors. But this is a very, very ominous sign for David Cameron’s Conservative Party.
Yesterday, the Tories lost several hundred seats to Labour. In many cases, those seats will have been lost because of the intervention of UKIP. And if the UKIP vote goes up any more, UKIP will start winning seats in large numbers in their own right.
Of course, sometimes the Tories say that it is dangerous to vote UKIP, because if you vote UKIP, you can let Labour in. That argument does not bear examination, since there really is not much difference between the Tories and Labour anyway.
At my own count yesterday, I talked to many of the Conservative candidates and councillors. I was struck by just how much anxiety they expressed, and by how little confidence they seem to have in their own party leadership.
Indeed, several said they preferred UKIP policies to Tory ones. Why they stay in the Tory Party is a question they will have to answer themselves!
Yesterday we heard rumblings of electoral success for UKIP. Time will tell whether they will die away again, or turn into an earthquake that will rock the Conservative establishment. Nobody with any sense would bet against the latter outcome.