The UK Independence Party has come a long way. In its 20 year existence it has gone from a single-issue party fighting against membership of the European Union to the UK's third party. With the trust in politicians of all parties dwindling, UKIP has hugely increased its support in local council and by-elections. Better late than never, UKIP is finally being taken seriously.
Mainstream politics has undoubtedly alienated people of all political stripes. The Liberal Democrats' disastrous experience in the Coalition has exhausted their leverage as a real alternative to the norm, and Labour are still struggling to build a viable identity away from the shadow of Blair and Brown. Meanwhile, the Cameron-Osborne Tory party, who presented themselves as the stoic saviors of the country, have managed to mangle their credibility thanks to an ineffectual economic recovery plan and inter-party grudges over membership of the EU.
But Ukip is not the solution. And individual political parties are not the whole problem. Beyond the bounds of national issues, there are global forces at work. Since the late '70s a consensus has formed around an ideological doctrine which holds that markets should be free, labour flexible, and taxes low. It doesn't matter that this is built on a series of flawed assumptions. All that really counts is that it creates huge wealth which can be siphoned off to the upper reaches of society.
Following the opening of China's markets in 1978, then the Reagan-Thatcher economic revolution of the '80s, the world would never be the same again. Subsequent political parties had to work within the dominant economic framework, which, thanks to the work of the aforementioned politicians - as well as the IMF and the World Bank - had become firmly established in much of the world by the time socialism was discredited in 1991. Indeed, despite the venom they receive, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton only continued a programme of economic policies which had already been set in motion by their predecessors; policies it would have been extraordinarily difficult to retract.
However, in allowing this doctrine of free markets, flexible labour, and low taxes to flourish, politicians have tacitly permitted a litany of problems to arise. The most obvious of these was the huge financial crash of 2007 and its fallout, which even today shows no signs of relenting. But other issues have also appeared; ones which are stoking increased support for previously marginal parties like UKIP in the UK, Golden Dawn in Greece, or Jobbik in Hungary. Though it is largely assumed UKIP will split, to a greater or lesser extent, the Tory vote, it is also predicted that it will do damage to the Labour vote. Why is this?
Labour's traditional voting demographic are largely working class and largely believe in a more equitable share of wealth for the populace, provided by the welfare state. So what attracts them to UKIP's right-leaning brand of small-government libertarianism? The answer is immigration. UKIP has promised to cut immigration dramatically, offering it as a cure-all solution to the country's problems; one which is evidently being lapped up by many voters.
Of all UK citizens, working class people have undoubtedly felt the effects of flexible labour policy the most. Whether it's the outsourcing of their jobs to cheaper workers abroad, struggling to get places for their children in local schools, problems acquiring council accommodation, or difficulty finding low-skilled work, working class people are increasingly seeking to blame immigrants for their own lack of opportunities. In turn, the government are blaming the working class for being "skivers"; too lazy to work for a living. It is left unsaid that immigrants are actually being exploited by businesses in the name of flexible labour, with many of them being paid extremely 'competitive' wages and working overly long hours to boost company profits.
But as shown, neither the idea nor the consequences of flexible labour are the responsibility of any one domestic political party; rather it is part of a complex and global ideological consensus. Voting for UKIP won't change the fundamental situation. In fact, their stance on immigration is bluntly opportunistic since it goes against their own pro free-market stance. How they will reconcile this is anyone's guess.
Instead a fundamental change is needed to counteract those elements of free-market economics which have played the biggest role in oppressing those least able to defend themselves. Only when sentiment for this change has become big enough to force politicians to listen will political parties change tack and offer different economic policies to their electorates.
Voting Ukip in any election will do nothing to solve the problems of the UK. But voting for the Conservatives or the Lib Dems will equally have little effect. Labour are closest to a progressive alternative to the economic status quo, but their message remains confused and poorly communicated, while the party's patchy record from 1997 - 2010 continues to put people off. Regardless of this, people across the globe need to continue to come together and demand a better world. This is the only way anything has ever changed.