My constituency of Mid Norfolk is seriously small 'c' Conservative country. From time on the doorsteps in the last month with local councillors and candidates, it is clear that UKIPs message is resonating loudly with bedrock Conservatives. Far from chiming just with extremists or closet racists or BMP sympathisers - who they clearly are also picking up - Nigel Farage's message is also chiming with decent mainstream Conservatives who have traditionally been the bedrock of the Conservative Party. Feedback from polling stations last night, last night's by-election result from South Shields, and early returns from Essex and other rural counties suggest a low turnout - and that a strong UKIP surge is producing a serious breakthrough. What's going on? How to respond?
It's clear to me from listening to UKIP 'swingers' that this UKIP surge is much more than just a mid-term protest vote. It's about much more than a deep and growing concern about the failures of the European project. And it's about much more than a single issue protest about uncontrolled immigration. Its also clear that it is NOT a sign of a hardening of voter opinion to the Right, or a call for more red-blooded right wing policies. Let's hope the Red Eds mistakenly use UKIP's land- grab of Labour voters as a sign that they need to lurch left, but let's not make the same mistake ourselves and lurch backwards to some mythical right-wing programme which some suggest would sweep us to a majority if we would only have the courage to promise it. We need courage, for sure - but it's the courage to listen to some tough love from critical friends, and try and understand what lies beneath Farage's appeal.
We need to be clear who UKIP are appealing to and why. It isn't just traditional Conservative voters like those listed above. It also Old Labour core voters: blue collar, manual and traditional-values trade 'Working Mans Club' Labour. It's also groups that mainstream parties have struggled to connect with: the young, first time voters; the concerned but apolitical mothers who so often deal in the family with the bread and butter social issues of childcare, education, health, and care, and whose concern used often to express itself as support for those nice Lib Dems Pre-Coalition.