Who's laughing now? Nigel Farage forces Ukip into the political mainstream with a stunning haul of seats in the local elections but how will he cope with the big time?

His party was dubbed a bunch of clowns – but they emerge as serious nationwide threat to three main parties

When the scale of Ukip’s electoral triumphs started to become clear, Nigel Farage had swapped the green Barbour he has worn during much of the campaign for his Arthur Daley-esque camel-coloured number with the suede collar. And while the Ukip leader managed to be more statesman-like than usual in a hectic round of TV and radio interviews, he was unable quite to free himself from his familiarly fluent sales patter.

Quite how he knows, to take a trivial example, that “good old Ken Clarke, looking as though he had been dragged through a hedge backwards after a bad Saturday night”, managed to add three per cent to the Ukip vote share by calling its members “clowns, fruitcakes and all the rest of it” is a bit of a mystery.

Sweeping assertions like this one are no doubt forgiveable in his moment of elation. But, from now, he is going to find his statements are subjected to greater scrutiny. The hard-smoking, pint-swilling “rather engaging geezer” – as he was once described by Boris Johnson – is hardly going to turn into a fully paid-up member of the buttoned-up political class he purports to despise. But it’s possible that we may hear less of his past frequenting of lap-dancing clubs, jokes about having enjoyed his job working in the City every day “until lunchtime”, and slightly dodgy gags about the death of the late Eastleigh MP Stephen Milligan, all of which he regaled a parliamentary press gallery lunch with a couple of weeks ago.

For this is the big time. It already seemed bizarrely missing the point to see BBC News’s election coverage dominated by a studio panel of the hitherto three “main parties”, when the drama’s main character was elsewhere: if not Hamlet without the Prince, this was Julius Caesar without Brutus, the political giant-slayer that Farage, after years of being patronisingly written off as a bit of a joke, now threatens to be.

What Farage definitely has is a populist “this guy is actually saying what he thinks” appeal. This has stood him well as he tells voters deeply disillusioned by an economic mess for which they still blame all the main parties that their leaders are “all the same” and went to the “same schools and Oxford colleges”. And he has finally fused his obsession with EU withdrawal, which isn’t a hot issue for voters, with immigration, which is, by claiming the first is the answer to the second.

Yet his own background is not quite as classless or anti-politics as he likes to imply. The son of a stockbroker who went to Dulwich College, he did indeed work in the City and only left the Conservative Party when John Major signed the Maastricht Treaty. In a BBC interview yesterday, he compared Ukip’s position to that of the game-changing SDP in the early 1980s, which didn’t win many seats but broke the mould by changing politics.

The difference may be that whereas the SDP pushed politics – and especially the Labour Party – towards the centre ground, Ukip’s attempt is likelier to push it – and especially the Tory party – even further to the right.

Comparisons with Europe, where economic slump has propelled mavericks like the Italian comedian Beppe Grillo to political prominence, have become commonplace. A more relevant comparison might be with the Tea Party and its impact on the US Republicans.

Not all of this will be easy. Anyone who has been around the country in the last week, including in Folkestone, where Ukip won all three county council seats, has been struck by voters saying they were mainly going for Ukip as a mid-term “protest” or, as a pensioner in Long Eaton put it, to “give ‘em all a good kicking”. It may not last.

Farage – who, it’s rumoured, is not an easy man to work with – is a one-man band presiding over an “outfit” he himself complains is difficult to lead. He has yet to deal fully with the apparent undesirability of some of his candidates, since the excuse that Ukip does not yet have the resources to monitor all 1,700 of them in these elections will not wash a second time. For now, however, he looks like being on a roll, at least until the European elections. As the man himself, quoting Bob Monkhouse, likes to say: “They’re not laughing now.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map