The count's in: 147 UKIP councillors. What now?

Farage's party have changed the landscape – at least for a bit.

After all councils across England and Wales have declared, UKIP has 147 councillors, far in excess of where it was predicted come before the elections.

Although there have been murmurs of protest – that the party's success was a self-fulfilling prophecy once the press started boosting Farage and co as a viable electoral force – there is no doubting that it's an important threshold for the erstwhile "fruitcakes" (although, of course, victory in local elections does not necessarily mean one is not a fruitcake…), and the conversation has turned to what happens next.

For the Conservative party, the consensus seems to be that treating the party as as laughable collection of far right xenophobes hasn't worked. Instead, the commentators suggest, it's time to look back to UKIP's roots as a single-issue anti-EU party, and outflank them their. So, Charles Moore writes in the Telegraph:

Already, it is clear that Mr Cameron has two desires – to win the next election and stay in the EU come almost what may. His speech is seen as a feint. Hence Ukip’s momentum, and hence the resurgent anger in his own party.

But Matthew Parris offers the opposite view in today's Times. UKIP should still be taken seriously, but not as a shining light of where popular conservatism lies; instead, Cameron's party should view it "as an enemy". He writes:

I’m a Conservative because I believe in the party’s central strand of moderation, social liberalism and internationalism. There are some on the Right who do not want these things. There is a limit to how far I would move to accommodate them, and a point beyond which I think they should consider a different party. That party might be UKIP. Well, so be it. Mr Farage should be challenged to forget about playing footsie with other people’s parties and make a decent fist of organising his own.

But while it's Conservatives who are having a crisis of faith this weekend, UKIP faces tough challenges on the horizon as well. For the party now has to deal with the nitty-gritty of local politics – a challenge which has scuppered other far-right parties. And while tactics of obstructionism work in the European Parliament, where the vast majority of UKIP's elected officials have say until now, there will be councils where the party is expected to provide a positive contribution to governance: if the candidates Farage would have "rather not" had don't get their act together, they will struggle for re-election in 2017.

What of the other parties? UKIP has overthrown the electoral calculus in more ways than one, of course. As our own Rafael Behr writes, Labour can't be complacent about UKIP's success:

There are plainly gains to be made for Labour nicking Tory seats if right-wing voters break for UKIP. That should offer very little comfort to Ed Miliband. Farage’s party came a respectable second place in South Shields, suggesting that voters who have been culturally inoculated against backing the Tories for a generation have no such qualms about UKIP. There are seats across the north of England and Scotland that Labour has taken for granted, where the party machine has rusted, where there are no up to date voter lists and the activist base is tribal and complacent.

Ironically, it's only the Lib Dems who can take an unabashedly positive view of UKIP. The party, already frequently a protest vote and with such clearly europhilic tendencies that it runs little risk of losing votes to the purple wave, has suddenly found a way of winning in the LD/Tory marginals which are increasingly its only hope in Westminster. If Tory votes go to UKIP, while Labour votes (grudgingly) tactically come to the Lib Dems, the party might be able to staunch the flow.

And finally, spare a thought for the Greens. They didn't show too badly on Thursday – gaining five councillors in elections far outside their core – and, as they keep pointing out, they do have an MP, something which remains a dream for UKIP. But the greater success of the green movement (even UKIP has a green policy of sorts, although it rejects the "LibLabCon-sensus" that climate change is man-made) might have left the Green party floundering for a reason to exist. After this week, it might see a bright future in the much-tossed-around idea of a "UKIP of the Left", but whatever happens, a reinvention seems necessary.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Who "speaks for England" - and for that matter, what is "England"?

The Hollywood producer Sam Gold­wyn once demanded, “Let’s have some new clichés.” The Daily Mail, however, is always happiest with the old ones.

The Hollywood producer Sam Gold­wyn once demanded, “Let’s have some new clichés.” The Daily Mail, however, is always happiest with the old ones. It trotted out Leo Amery’s House of Commons call from September 1939, “Speak for England”, for the headline on a deranged leader that filled a picture-free front page on David Cameron’s “deal” to keep Britain in the EU.

Demands that somebody or other speak for England have followed thick and fast ever since Amery addressed his call to Labour’s Arthur Greenwood when Neville Chamberlain was still dithering over war with Hitler. Tory MPs shouted, “Speak for England!” when Michael Foot, the then Labour leader, rose in the Commons in 1982 after Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands. The Mail columnist Andrew Alexander called on Clare Short to “speak for England” over the Iraq War in 2003. “Can [Ed] Miliband speak for England?” Anthony Barnett asked in this very magazine in 2013. (Judging by the 2015 election result, one would say not.) “I speak for England,” claimed John Redwood last year. “Labour must speak for England,” countered Frank Field soon afterwards.

The Mail’s invocation of Amery was misconceived for two reasons. First, Amery wanted us to wage war in Europe in support of Hitler’s victims in Poland and elsewhere and in alliance with France, not to isolate ourselves from the continent. Second, “speak for England” in recent years has been used in support of “English votes for English laws”, following proposals for further devolution to Scotland. As the Mail was among the most adamant in demanding that Scots keep their noses out of English affairs, it’s a bit rich of it now to state “of course, by ‘England’. . . we mean the whole of the United Kingdom”.

 

EU immemorial

The Mail is also wrong in arguing that “we are at a crossroads in our island history”. The suggestion that the choice is between “submitting to a statist, unelected bureaucracy in Brussels” and reclaiming our ancient island liberties is pure nonsense. In the long run, withdrawing from the EU will make little difference. Levels of immigration will be determined, as they always have been, mainly by employers’ demands for labour and the difficulties of policing the borders of a country that has become a leading international transport hub. The terms on which we continue to trade with EU members will be determined largely by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels after discussions with unelected bureaucrats in London.

The British are bored by the EU and the interminable Westminster arguments. If voters support Brexit, it will probably be because they then expect to hear no more on the subject. They will be sadly mistaken. The withdrawal negotiations will take years, with the Farages and Duncan Smiths still foaming at the mouth, Cameron still claiming phoney victories and Angela Merkel, François Hollande and the dreaded Jean-Claude Juncker playing a bigger part in our lives than ever.

 

An empty cabinet

Meanwhile, one wonders what has become of Jeremy Corbyn or, indeed, the rest of the shadow cabinet. The Mail’s “speak for England” leader excoriated him for not mentioning “the Number One subject of the hour” at PM’s Questions but instead asking about a shortage of therapeutic radiographers in the NHS. In fact, the NHS’s problems – almost wholly caused by Tory “reforms” and spending cuts – would concern more people than does our future in the EU. But radiographers are hardly headline news, and Corbyn and his team seem unable to get anything into the nation’s “any other business”, never mind to the top of its agenda.

Public services deteriorate by the day, George Osborne’s fiscal plans look increasingly awry, and attempts to wring tax receipts out of big corporations appear hopelessly inadequate. Yet since Christmas I have hardly seen a shadow minister featured in the papers or spotted one on TV, except to say something about Trident, another subject that most voters don’t care about.

 

Incurable prose

According to the Guardian’s admirable but (let’s be honest) rather tedious series celeb­rating the NHS, a US health-care firm has advised investors that “privatisation of the UK marketplace . . . should create organic and de novo opportunities”. I have no idea what this means, though it sounds ominous. But I am quite certain I don’t want my local hospital or GP practice run by people who write prose like that.

 

Fashionable Foxes

My home-town football team, Leicester City, are normally so unfashionable that they’re not even fashionable in Leicester, where the smart set mostly watch the rugby union team Leicester Tigers. Even when they installed themselves near the top of the Premier League before Christmas, newspapers scarcely noticed them.

Now, with the Foxes five points clear at the top and 7-4 favourites for their first title, that mistake is corrected and the sports pages are running out of superlatives, a comparison with Barcelona being the most improbable. Even I, not a football enthusiast, have watched a few matches. If more football were played as Leicester play it – moving at speed towards their opponents’ goal rather than aimlessly weaving pretty patterns in midfield – I would watch the game more.

Nevertheless, I recall 1963, when Leicester headed the old First Division with five games to play. They picked up only one more point and finished fourth, nine points adrift of the league winners, Everton.

 

Gum unstuck

No, I don’t chew toothpaste to stop me smoking, as the last week’s column strangely suggested. I chew Nicorette gum, a reference written at some stage but somehow lost (probably by me) before it reached print.

Editor: The chief sub apologises for this mistake, which was hers

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle