The eruption of Ukip

Resentment has propelled Farage’s party to electoral success. This fuel won’t last as growth spreads out from London

The trouble with London, said Suzanne Evans, one of the UK Independence Party’s more impressive speakers, is that it is inhabited by so many “educated, cultured and young” people.

She was trying to explain why Ukip had done so well in the local elections in England except in London, but managed to encapsulate in a single phrase much of the country’s recent socio-demographic history.

London is, indeed, different from the rest of the country. So much so that it has become fashionable to describe it as a separate city-state and to suggest that it would make more sense for it to hold a referendum on breaking away from the UK than it does for Scotland to do so.

The implication that London is somehow an alien province that has been imposed on “traditional England” is, however, a mistaken one. Ms Evans inadvertently stumbled on the truth, which is that London is England’s future.

Ukip, as a party of reaction against change, is bound to find it hard to pick up votes in one of the world’s greatest and most successful cities, which has changed so much – and so much for the better – over the past two decades.

Crudely speaking, London has attracted millions of people from other parts of the country and from around the world, and many of the people who are averse to change, or to foreigners, have moved out.

Ukip’s success outside London on Thursday was a petition by those who feel that they have been “left behind” by change. There will be great excitement tomorrow if, as expected, Ukip wins the largest share of the vote in the European Parliament election.

It would, indeed, be extraordinary for a so-called protest party, which has no representation in the House of Commons, to win more than 30 per cent of the vote in a nationwide election.

Yet it was possibly more significant that Ukip’s projected national share of the vote in the local council elections was a little lower than it was last year. The party presents itself, and is often presented by others, as a reaction to changes that have been occurring over decades. Instead, it seems more likely that it is a short-term eruption – a reaction above all to the hard economic times since 2008 – and a reaction that is already subsiding.

That the pains of austerity are receding unevenly, with London, and especially London house prices, leading the way means that people are more conscious of the gap between it and the rest of the country. But if the economy continues to grow, past experience suggests that the benefits of growth will spread out from the South-east and that some of the resentments against immigration will ease. After all, when migration from Central Europe was at its highest, while the economy was booming before the crash, anti-immigrant feeling was subdued and Ukip was still a fringe party.

We mean no disrespect to Ukip voters when we suggest that the party’s best days are already behind it. Some of the recent changes in Britain feel to them like impositions by a metropolitan elite: the smoking ban, gay marriage and wind turbines. But the remarkable thing about so many of these social changes is how quickly they become accepted – part of the landscape, as it were.

The unavoidable question in the rise of Ukip, however, is the free movement of workers throughout the EU. That is a core principle, which Britain accepted when it joined in 1973. You can tinker with benefit entitlement or transitional measures for new countries that join, but in the end you either accept free movement or you have to leave the EU.

We believe that the benefits outweigh the costs, even as we recognise that those costs in recent years have been borne more by people on lower incomes, and that London’s success points the way to the wider prosperity – and even better education and higher culture – of the whole of the United Kingdom.

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