Commentators across the board have been hailing the “British Tea Party” for at least a year. Daniel Hannan, the Tory MEP, has even tried to launch one, without much success.
The latest to ride on the coat-tails of the popular US movement is Nigel Farage, newly re-elected as UK Independence Party leader. Speaking on Sky News, he said that his party shared the feeling of being “overtaxed, overgoverned, not being listened to”. He claimed that this gave the party a “bigger political opportunity than ever before” to recruit Tories dissatisfied with David Cameron’s EU-friendly policies.
Could Ukip be the British Tea Party? The two movements do have quite a lot in common: the anti-establishment flavour, the emphasis on small government, the nationalism. They also share a – how do I put this? – certain nuttiness, both groups containing some pretty extreme and off-centre elements.
But, crucially, does it have a capacity to gain mass appeal akin to that of the US group? It is worth remembering that the party did gain a million votes in this year’s general election. Some even suggested that this small but significant tally could have cost Cameron his overall majority in the Commons.
Given Britain’s electoral system, it is unlikely that Ukip will gain any seats in parliament, even if its share of the vote were to double. However, if it were to grow in support, it could influence public debate by pressuring the Conservatives from the right.
It’s also worth noting that the Tea Party is a wing of the Republican Party, and so can pressurise traditionalists from within. Ukip is even more on the edges of mainstream political debate.
At the moment, it remains a fringe group. But as the US Tea Party shows, you write off the “nutters” at your peril. Stranger things have happened.