|Source: New Statesman|
Not only did the UKIP party in Britain win the Clacton constituency by-election yesterday - by dint of the sitting MP crossing over into the other camp - but more importantly Labour nearly lost Heywood and Middleton, Manchester. The latter had had a strong Labour majority but Labour only held the seat by around 600 votes, nearly being ousted by the UKIP candidate. Here the turnout was an appallingly low 36% which basically means that five or six thousand Labour supporters just stayed at home; given the latest awful performance at the Labour's recent conference, the party should be grateful to get any votes at all.
In both cases, something else is happening: the Conservative Party is seeing its support melt away and its voters in their thousands are turning towards UKIP. Pundits are comforting themselves by saying that by-elections do not produce typical results and that UKIP will return by next May's General Election to its erstwhile 10-12%. But how certain can they be about this?
Before the First World War, the great Liberal Party was split over Irish Home Rule. After 1914 it found itself hopelessly compromised by its vacillations towards the war effort and towards the question of whether to form a coalition with the conservatives. Between 1919 and 1922 its support began to melt away and the young Labour Party actually became the official Opposition. By the end of the twenties, the Labour Party was firmly established.
In the light of this historical experience, we may be tempted to ask whether the Conservative Party, with bad experiences in relation to the economy, towards its coalition with the Lib Dems, a perilously close run thing over independence for Scotland, splits and bombast over the European Union with over half the parliamentary party classifiable as Euro-Sceptic , i.e. close to UKIP, whether indeed the Conservative Party is not about to follow the fate of the old Liberal Party in the 1920s and is heading towards semi-oblivion, to be replaced by the upstarts in UKIP, either before or following next May's election ....