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VOTERS in the Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election have delivered a bloody nose to the governing coalition parties, pushing the Tories into third place behind Ukip and costing the Liberal Democrats their deposit.
Ukip leader Nigel Farage is cock-a-hoop over his candidate finishing second, the sixth time this has happened since 2010, and complains about postal voting and Labour’s “bully-boy tactics.”
Neither of these positions stands up. Coming second doesn’t put members in the House of Commons and complaining about electoral rules and your opponents smacks of being a poor loser.
Ukip has taken on the mantle of the pre-coalition Liberal Democrats — all things to all people and anything to get elected.
It worked for decades for the Liberal Democrats. They were the alternative conservative party in Tory strongholds and the other progressive party in Labour areas.
Farage’s party has tried the same strategy, displacing the Tories and challenging the Liberal Democrats in Eastleigh while it shamelessly posed as the party of the working class in Wythenshawe.
In one sense only was Ukip unlucky. The national floods emergency pushed the by-election off the front pages, denying the party the opportunity of creating the kind of propaganda bandwagon that often benefited the Liberal Democrats.
However, Ukip didn’t deserve a lucky break given the dishonesty of its approach.
It is easy enough to point to the class origins, wealth and posh houses of Labour frontbenchers, but it doesn’t really work when Farage’s own background is well known.
The privately educated son of a stockbroker who made a fortune as a commodities trader and describes himself as a Thatcherite is hardly the epitome of a working-class hero.
That is made even more clear when a spotlight is shone on Ukip policies, other than the most highly publicised of opposition to immigration and to the European Union.
Most people accept that the tax system in Britain has to change, but not, as Ukip wants, to a flat rate where multimillionaires and people on the minimum wage would pay the same proportion of their income.
As a true Thatcherite, Farage would cut investment in public services by even more than the Tories, Liberal Democrats and Labour, destroying the NHS and state education and throwing another couple of million workers on the dole.
Needless to say, Ukip candidate John Bickley didn’t make a big thing of these crackpot ideas on the knocker in Wythenshawe.
Nevertheless, it is likely that Ukip will continue to poll well in England, largely as a protest vote, in by-elections over the next year.
The party’s influence is less marked in Scotland and Wales because of its essentially English Tory image and the existence of mainstream nationalist parties to soak up voter hostility to the major Westminster parties.
The turnout of just 28 per cent reveals continued disenchantment with the delights on offer to the electorate, where the difference between parties committed to cutting public spending is marginal.
It is natural for ideologically committed neoliberal parties such as the Tories and Liberal Democrats to plump for the bankers’ austerity agenda.
But as Jeremy Corbyn pointed out in the pages of our paper earlier this week, Labour ought to be posing a real alternative based on tackling inequality, not least through a fairer taxation system, especially for corporate wealth.
Voters will continue to turn their backs on polling stations as long as they aren’t enthused by the choice on offer.
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