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Are Nigel Farage's Ukip the British Tea Party?

02/05/2013 12:28 BST | Updated 01/07/2013 10:12 BST

Comparisons between Ukip and the Tea Party were made as early as 2010, when the bible-thumping faction of the Republican Party challenged for seats in the House and the Senate. Ukip's targeting English shire councils, but the two have a lot in common, not least because they attract disenfranchised conservative voters; both are nationalistic, seek a small government, provide a protest vote and are the underdogs of mainstream politics.

Nigle Farage's appearance on Fox News in October last year provided an interesting juxtaposition between the two ideologies and Fox mainstay Neil Cavuto was visibly excited by Farage less-government mantra: "The great battle that's going on right now, and it's happening in America, it's happening in Europe, is of bureaucracy vs. democracy." Minutes later Cavuto labelled Portugal's ex-president José Manuel Barroso as French "because of his attitude" before Farage fingered him as a known Maoist.

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Illustration: @LeeNutland

It was a joy to watch, but the key difference between the two parties is that Ukip is capable of being taken seriously by the press, regardless of the endless obscure council candidate bashing that's been going on this week. When the Tea Party was at its peak its leaders were more like political caricatures than Spitting Image's broad-shouldered Thatcher tribute when she neighboured an insect gassing OAP Hitler.

Ukip has been construed as a bunch of loonies and a no-hope fringe party, but in truth they often feel closer to the nation's political mood than the three main parties. In April, Farage went on a Common Sense tour wearing a hat borrowed from a 50s dick and occasionally pouting like a startled frog. Yet he did a good job of being able to drink ale - British, you understand - discuss serious economic issues and engage with the media, which ran a series of status-raising profiles.

And this is the key difference between the would-be right wing detractors in the US and what's happening in the UK right now; the media and the electorate are taking Ukip relatively seriously, the Tea Party were never been much more than the bile that collects on the edge of Fox New's ever-snarling gnashers.

Leveraging this post local election provides three key challenges for Farage: galvanising the party's support base over the next two years, keeping it together during a general-election-scale media onslaught and creating an election platform that deals with more than Johnny Forensczca.

The first past the post system means that it's unlikely Ukip will gain any seats in parliament, even if they do hurt the Tories in the local elections, their support base is too spread out and they don't have the campaign machinery. This is just the start of the kind of political attacks that they will be open to and, whatever you say about their manifesto, their candidates and supporters have trouble getting much further than the need to get out of the European Union.

Ukip's foray in the local elections has helped shape the debate and they stand to win seats - they'll avoid turning out like the dud red, white and blue firework that was the 2010 Tea Party this time round, but it's going to be very difficult to achieve anything in national government either.