Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty
The local election results show that Nigel Farage's party is a force to be reckoned with, and the two-party system in crisis. Ukip’s numbers look remarkable; the rest of us should maybe pause for thought and realise that something very sobering is afoot.
By John Harris
Over the past week or so – in the wake of Nigel Farage's supposedly disastrous LBC interview and as politicians and pundits queued up to accuse his party of being racist – something interesting began to emerge. It was almost as unpleasant as some of the views of the Ukip leader and the out-there candidates who were crash-landing in the news – a collective outbreak of sneering, which started to transcend the party itself and blur into a generalised mockery of anyone minded to support it. You could see it most clearly in the rash of satirical(ish) #WhyImVotingUkip tweets that are piling up even now (eg "Because our true British maypoles are set to be completely replaced by foreign gay Poles within 5 years" or "Because I'm uneducated,uncultured, white and old") and it's not pretty: an apparent belief that to vote UKIP is to be an idiot of some description, either bigoted or duped, and worthy of little more than contempt.
If you remain of that opinion, you should stop reading and go somewhere else. As the local election results come in and Ukip's numbers continue to look remarkable, the rest of us should maybe pause for thought and realise that something rather sobering is afoot, as happened in the 2012 county council elections, only more so. If a party is averaging 47% of the vote in a Labour stronghold such as Rotherham, toppling Tories from their perches in crucial Conservative territory and apparently heading towards first place in the European contest, something important is obviously afoot. Moreover, if people are supporting Ukip in such large numbers – even after the media's massed guns have been rattling at it for weeks – it is probably time to drop all the sneering and think about why.
So far, neither side of politics has even the beginnings of an adequate response. Listening to senior Conservatives this morning (Michael Gove on BBC Breakfast was a good example), you would think they simply need to further turn the screw on welfare and immigration and everything will be OK. Equally, when the left pipes up about Ukip voters' worries being reducible to either the "cost of living crisis" or a tangle of concerns around job markets and public services, they get nowhere near the whole story.
The truth is that the Ukip surge is built around a multitude of factors that wrong-foot both left and right. And on my side of politics, the most difficult stuff to process is about things from which the left tends to avert its eyes: notions of identity and belonging, anxiety about accelerated change and the fact that that leftie hooray-word "community" can actually have chewy connotations. Crudely put, when you meet a Labour-Ukip switcher who expresses worries about immigration, you can't simply reduce what they say to falling wages and the lack of social housing.
Immigration and people's responses to it are complex beyond words: they test just about every article of faith across the political spectrum.
I am writing this piece in Great Yarmouth, where the borough council count has yet to start, but a few hours spent talking to people outside polling stations underlined all those themes, and more. What was most telling, though, was the fact that so many people were engaged with what was happening and under precious few illusions. Given that Ukip is a non-story in London, the metropolitan media will presumably continue to misunderstand it and patronise its voters, but one misapprehension needs to be corrected, and fast: Ukip voters do not form some blind personality cult and neither are they unaware of the often unpleasant views of the party's people. Mention Farage and you hear things such as, "I don't trust him either". Yet again, "complicated" doesn't even begin to describe it.
This is not some bolt from the blue. The two – no, three – party system is in deep crisis. It looks like there is no way back to the world where either Labour or the Tories compete to break through the magic 40% barrier and all is largely well. The Liberal Democrats look to have had it. Meanwhile, Scotland is threatening to pull away from the UK and the result of next year's general election, let alone what will happen in its aftermath, is anyone's guess.
In my hotel room – at a ring-road Travelodge, in case anyone was wondering – a succession of Westminster faces are blathering on the television and I have just received a text message from an activist friend in response to one I sent which read, "I love the smell of toast in the morning". He wrote: "We can all smell the coffee. Ed, Cameron et al refuse to act because it's all about them. How long can it last?"
The Telegraph: Attention Toffs & Muffins: London-land Can’t Ignore This Protest...A Tempest In A Teapot, It is Not.
The Guardian: Revenge of the 'Swivel-Eyed Loons'! Ukip's Success Is No False Dawn – It's Time To Stop The Sneering And Put Away Our Muffin-PM's Childish Talk Of 'Fruitcakes, Loonies, And Closet Racists
Local Elections 2014: Nigel Farage's Success Throws Labour Into Crisis and Severely Undermines Ed Miliband's Hopes of Winning 2015 General Election
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The Truth At Last! Peter Mandelson Admits Labour 'Sent Out Search Parties' To Bring Migrants Here After Losing The Votes Of The Working Class
Farage: No Wonder Tory Voters Feel Closer To Me. Look At The Stupidity Of Muffin's Priorities: Gay Marriage, Foreign Aid And Wind Farms.
Ed Miliband Has Just Given The Worst Speech I've Ever Heard From A Party Leader. He's Running Out Of Time.
Why Britain's Fallen Out Of Love With The Welfare State (Or, More Likely, Everyone Else's Welfare State)
In The UK, "Austerity" Means Spending More Than The Socialists In Labour Did...And, Those Bastards Bankrupted The Country