Can Ukip handle the trials of local government?

The party will need to convert eurosceptic zeal to dealing with complaints about drains

Share
Related Topics

After elections comes a very exciting thing: counting. Ballot papers are counted. Then they are counted again. They are sorted by ballot box, then by party, then by party again. They are paper-clipped, labelled, and sorted into piles. It is at this point that the candidates, parties and eventually the world become aware of the result. The piles tell all. In the county council election on 3 May, they showed a revolutionary change in British local government. For almost every count in a countryside election, there were now four large piles. In the hours before results were announced, the stacks of paper represented the first physical evidence of Ukip’s breakthrough to create- outside Westminster- a four-party system in England.

I was at the count in Cromer, where the ballots for northern Norfolk were counted. Distressed by the height of the purple-tagged piles, I contented myself with the thought that - if their current crop of representatives was anything to go by - Ukip was already somewhat doomed.

Their local leader, Mike Baker, wore a flappy beige suit and chromatic tie, sealing the deal with sandals and thin white socks. His band of helpers wore militaria, invariably accompanied by gigantic double-breasted suits. Perhaps nine in ten were men, nearly all (very) elderly, and with the same expression of stubborn bafflement as a tortoise who has tripped on its own feet. Such trends in fashion and demographics would be unimportant were it not for their sheer unanimity. We do not yet have comprehensive statistics. But the indication is that the all-too-frequently unvetted Ukip candidates, who hold frequently extreme views, are overwhelmingly of this bucolic and self-parodying variety.

Again, this apparent lack of seriousness would not matter were it not worryingly obvious that inability to deal with the modern world also extends to basic ability to run a modern political party and achieve policy aims. Ukip stands on its strength as an anti-establishment party. Almost half its voters cite dissatisfaction with the main parties as their reason for supporting Ukip, while a further quarter cite dissatisfaction with the present government.

However, voters will only support an anti-establishment party when it actually works for them to oppose the establishment. At the moment Ukip, put simply, cannot do this. Can its councillors convert their zeal for euroscepticism to writing to council officers with complaints about drains? Will they provide an effective opposition to Conservative councils?

These things may sound trivial, but if Ukip is to maintain their local government base they will simply have to do them. Ukip is used to not having to form an identity, because it is used to sending elected representatives to the European Parliament, who will automatically have something to protest about for as long as they hold office. But for a party having severe problems with even having national policies, to gain a local identity will be a very difficult struggle.

This is ignoring the purely electoral side. In North Norfolk, and throughout the country it seems, Ukip supporters did not tell canvassers from the main parties they were voting Ukip. They simply materialised on polling day. This mysterious tendency, like a British Bradley effect, is a migraine for the main parties, but it spells disaster for Ukip. They already need to build a grassroots campaigning mechanism from scratch, without a local record to build on. And they have a voter base who are trenchantly anti-political, making them inevitably much harder to persuade to vote. They need a reason not to shift back to the Tories, or apathy. In other words they need a party that will work for them.

This points to choppy waters for Ukip’s future. They are fundamentally a protest vote, and therefore vulnerable to changing political circumstances - the end of a Conservative government, a shift to the right in Conservative policy, changes in the EU, an improved economy. Unless they can establish themselves as tireless community activists, capable of holding power, they will not be able to create the local government base which, in the long run, will enable them to become a party of government rather than merely a protest party of fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas