The ironies around UKIP are endless. First, it is the Tory tabloids that fanned the public fury about immigration, welfare and Europe, and thus the UKIP surge which has so successfully split the Tory party between the modernising, hug a hoodie, Arctic sleigh, wind turbine on your house, gay marriage detoxifiers of Teresa May’s Nasty Party on the one hand and on the other the hard-line Tory Right Little Englanders. The Mail, Sun, Telegraph and Express have created the devouring UKIP monster, and are now having the consequences visited upon them. That split now puts Cameron in an almost impossible position. Either he moves Right to seek to placate the Farage hordes, in which case they will only try to pull him yet further Right and he has then lost any claim to leadership and will anyway alienate the majority centrist vote, or he rebuffs Farage as a temporary blip and ploughs on, in which case he swells the UKIP numbers and risks seriously damaging his chances at the 2015 election.
Second, whilst profound prejudice against immigration, welfare and Europe as scapegoats has certainly been whipped by the Tory press who are now hoist on their own petard, the real depth of malaise which UKIP is now fronting isn’t primarily about specifics like that at all. It goes much deeper to the whole disastrous experience of the last decade or two – the insecurity of mass unemployment, the anger at bankers unpunished for crashing the economy, the greed over bankers’ bonuses and the sky-high millions self-rewarded by the filthy rich, the worsening decline in living standards, the endless austerity, the disgrace that has successively shamed MPs, the media and the police, etc. This is not going to be put right just tightening immigrant restrictions, cracking down even further on benefit recipients, or promising a referendum on Europe. For these are the symptoms of the malaise, not the cause. What is clearly called for is a systemic change since the real causes are all consequences of a free markets no-holds-barred capitalism which has unambiguously failed and now clearly has to be replaced. That neither the Cameroons nor the Tory hardliners will even contemplate. If only Ed Miliband has the courage of his convictions to speak out, this is Labour’s best hope for a fundamental breakthrough.
There is a third, intensely ironic result of this UKIP election. It is is widely accepted that the only reason Labour held on at South Shields is that it had a good local candiate who was respected and liked in the area, not s metropolitan daftee parachuted in from London. Blair and Brown secured their hegemony by breaking all the rules in the Labour Party handbook to fix elections for their favoured parliamentary candidates so that, by colonising the PLP in their own image, they knew they could do whatever they liked without fear of being dethroned. That corrupt system is now dead – thanks to UKIP! In future it has to be Labour candidates who are genuinely acceptable to their own local parties and chosen by them, not by some rigged NEC panel. If that lesson is finally learnt, the South Shields by-election will not have been in vain.