Six months to go until the general election in the UK and all bets are off. The cat is amongst the pigeons and MPs on the left and right are looking nervously over their shoulders.
The UK Independence Party has secured their second by-election victory, this time in Rochester and Stroud. In the process they have laid down a marker, not just to the right, but also the left that they are coming after their voters.
Labour is losing touch
UKIP has long been pulling in voters from the Conservative right. This latest election result shows it is also absorbing working class voters, many of whom are culturally conservative, but were unprepared to vote for the Tory party who they see as standing up for big business over workers.
In his acceptance speech Mark Reckless MP, whose defection from the Conservatives to UKIP triggered this by-election, said only his party stood up for the traditional working class of the UK.
The Labour Party had been content to lay low and let UKIP and the Tories bloody each other’s noses, until a stray tweet added weight to the narrative that Labour is losing touch.
The tweet from Labour MP, Emily Thornberry, labeled “view from Rochester”, showed England flags draped from the windows of a house, with a white van in the driveway.
Aside from the war in Iraq, the most enduring legacy of Tony Blair’s New Labour project is the transformation of Labour from the party of working class to one representing a metropolitan liberal party.
That is why, despite the lack of obviously offensive content in the tweet, Thornberry resigned from the Shadow cabinet.
All up for grabs
It may seem slightly innocuous, if ill advised. But with another hung parliament likely, political parties are getting panicky.
Voters are abandoning their traditional parties thereby opening up a game of electoral hungry hippos. Votes are up for grabs, and with small margins likely to have big outcomes, even minor slips demand a reaction.
Except for UKIP, who have remained oddly politically bullet proof.
During last week’s hustings, Mark Reckless appeared to state a desire for all EU migrants to be repatriated, saying: “I think we should probably allow people who are currently here to have a work permit at least for a fixed period.”
This follows statements of other UKIP members linking the legalisation of gay marriage with bad weather, saying a woman’s place is in the kitchen and calling for aid to be cut off to “bongo bongo land”.
No amount of faux pas makes the mud stick. No matter what his party says, Nigel Farage has managed to laugh it away with his unique mixture of bluster, self-deprecation and charisma.
Unable to make a serious dent in their popularity, both Conservatives and Labour have laid out their own watered down versions of the UKIP pledge card promising various tough stances against the EU and immigration.
People don’t vote for who they used to, parties don’t stand for what they used to. There are more parties to vote for than there used to be, and precedents are increasingly null and void.
So where do we go from here? Apart from grabbing the torches and pitchforks and marching on Brussels. That, frankly, is anyone’s guess.
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