Though Nigel Farage talks of an earthquake in Clacton-on-Sea that will shake the political establishment, the UK Independence Party’s extraordinary victory may yet turn out to be one of those interesting events that were not quite as important as they seemed at the time.
The British system for electing MPs makes it extremely difficult for new entrants to create any substantial presence in the House of Commons. The last party to make a genuine breakthrough into big time national politics was Labour, almost a century ago.
Ukip has come a very long way since they ran their first candidate in a parliamentary by-election in Eastleigh 20 years ago. His name was Nigel Farage, by the way. They are now the most formidable fourth party to arise in British politics since a dozen Labour MPs broke ranks to set up the SDP in 1982. The SDP’s big selling point was that they were holding the political centre while Labour veered off to the outside left. As soon as Labour recovered its old self, the SDP became irrelevant.
Ukip is unique in being the only party committed to pulling out of the EU. However, if the Conservatives win next year’s general election and deliver a referendum on EU membership, whatever the outcome, afterwards there will be no obvious point to Ukip’s continued existence.
In pictures: The rise of Ukip
In pictures: The rise of Ukip
1/8 1993: Alan Sked forms Ukip
History professor Alan Sked had been active in anti-EU politics for a while beore he founded Ukip in 1993. He resigned from the party after the 1997 election, concerned that it was attracting far-right members, and has been critical of Ukip since. Picture: Reuters
2/8 2005: Kilroy defects
Former TV presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk founded Veritas in 2005, after a failed bid to become leader, and took many of Ukip's elected members with him. But the party slowly lost its popularity and didn't put forward any candidates in the last election. Picture: REUTERS/Kieran Doherty REUTERS KD/RUS
3/8 2010: Farage becomes leader, again
Farage had led Ukip from 2006 until 2009, when he stood down to fight against the Speaker, John Bercow, for his Buckingham seat. He failed to win the election and returned to lead the party in November 2010. Picture: REUTERS/Kieran Doherty
4/8 2010: Ukip fights for election
Nigel Farage was injured in a plane crash on polling day in the 2010 general election, but his party increased its success in the votes. It fielded 572 candidates and took 3.1% of the vote, though failed to win any seats. REUTERS/Darren Staples
5/8 2013: Eastleigh gains
Ukip's candidate Diane James got the highest ever number of votes for any candidate from the party, but was beaten by the Liberal Democrats. The surge in support gave Ukip confidence ahead of local and European elections later in the year. Picture: Reuters
6/8 2013: Bloom kicked out
Godfrey Bloom, who served as an Ukip MEP from 2004 to 2014, had the whip withdrawn in 2013 after sexist comments and an attack on a journalist. He sat as an independent MEP until 2014, when he ended his term in office. Picture: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
7/8 2014: European election success
Ukip got a higher proportion of the vote than any other party in 2014's European elections, adding 11 new MEPs and taking its total to 24. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
8/8 2014: Carswell defects
Douglas Carswell defected from Ukip at the end of August, and was followed by Mark Reckless at the end of September, who resigned from the Tories amid rumours of many more defections to come. Picture: REUTERS/Toby Melville
Mr Farage and Mr Carswell have scored a sensational victory, and every reason to be pleased with it, but they have not broken the mould of British politics, yet.Reuse content