THE BLOG

Anyone Heard of the Protest Vote?

07/05/2013 11:37 BST | Updated 03/07/2013 10:12 BST
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The UKIP successes in these local elections are influential in the short term. However, the long term impact of UKIP is still up for debate. While UKIP have been on the rise in recent years it is true that even these results have taken many analysts by surprise.

However, something that has been missing has been the suggestions that maybe, just maybe, this could be a protest vote. The current political system where the main centre-right party in the UK is hamstrung by its coalition partner means that there is political space among the electorate for a right-wing protest party to attract support. Equally the frustration the country is feeling with the failure to end the recession and a growing threat of the UK being damaged by fallout from the Eurozone crisis is causing further fears. Throw in a few media scare stories about the inability to deport a radical Islamic preacher and the stage is set for a protest vote.

Nigel Farage has been successful in his appeal to the public, indeed with his enthusiastic personality and energetic rhetoric it is hard to imagine the party without him. However, this can only get the party so far. In effect the Conservative Party have already taken away some unique policies UKIP had - the promise of an 'in-out' referendum if the Conservatives are re-elected in 2015 has taken the momentum out of UKIP's calls for a genuine debate on the UK's relationship with the EU. In addition to this UKIPs influence can be seen in the growing rhetoric from ministers regarding human rights and deportation with Home Secretary Theresa May even suggesting the UK could leave the European treaty on human rights if the Abu Qatada deportation case is not brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

Therefore, while these developments are interesting this doesn't mean that we can expect Nigel Farage to be our next premier.

In stark contrast the Liberal Democrats, and to an extent the Conservatives, are certainly feeling the effects of the protest vote - a major decline in council seats for the Lib Dems and being beaten into seventh place in the South Shields by-election behind that party that used to win the odd protest vote before the last general election... what were they called again?

These local elections are an important indicator but more importantly they're also a vital part of our democracy. They show how voters are feeling and they also provide voters with the ability to send serious messages to the government - right now they feel angry about Europe and the state of the economy. The government and the main parties, Labour included, have to sit up and take note of this; but this doesn't mean that UKIP are any more than the temporary beneficiaries of a disgruntled electorate.