That UKIP has made unprecedented waves in the latest round of local elections should not have come as a surprise to anyone.
The party is riding on a wave of anti-government feeling as austerity bites, the Lib Dems’ protest vote evaporates and Labour continues to be an ineffectual opposition with a slightly weird MP at its head.
In many ways it’s a re-run of the early 1980s, what with the recession, Geoffrey Howe’s 1981 budget, the SDP surge and the godsend that was Michael Foot.
It’s worthwhile learning a lesson from that. One of the noticeable features of the Thatcher years was the willingness of the electorate to punish the government in local elections and by-elections but reward it with landslide majorities when it came to deciding the government.
We will see a similar situation in the European elections next year, where UKIP has always done well. But as many have pointed out that does not mean voters will see the party as one of government in 2015. Remember when the Lib Dems were coming second in polls in 2010?
But the last thing we want to be is complacent and this is, of course, something Margaret Thatcher could never be accused of. Another thing the Thatcher government could not be accused of is having an image problem.
Margaret Thatcher and her close allies were largely from lower middle class families who had risen through the grammar school system and done well for themselves off their own backs. This chimed with voters.
It’s also something about Nigel Farage, I suspect, that chimes with UKIP voters. The man is down to earth, straight talking, and utterly unashamed of both his humble beginnings and lucrative rise.
But you only have to remove Farage from the equation – as when he allowed Lord Pearson to take over – to see how little substance UKIP has. Under Pearson’s leadership the party machine fell into disarray.
It says something about the party’s lack of quality members – seen again in its choice of election candidates last week – that Pearson was seen as the next best thing.
UKIP presently has great style but very little substance. Our problem, however, is reversed. The leadership has failed to adequately communicate the radical strides it has made in welfare, education and tax reform to the people who will benefit from it most – those on low and middle incomes.
Likewise, Cameron has failed to capitalise on public support for an EU referendum – first by declaring it out of the question then, when forced into a corner by his MPs, setting one for the next Parliament.
His reason for doing so is, reasonably, that a referendum would have to be voted on by the House of Commons first – and without a majority this isn’t going to happen. But God loves a tryer. And so do voters.
Tabling a motion for a referendum would show up Labour and the Lib Dems and let voters know we are serious – allowing a second motion to be a core election policy in 2015. Tabling this for 2017 has only allowed UKIP to say we have no intention of holding a referendum.
But there is also the issue of having a top table of Old Etonians and ‘toffs’ – which has only been compounded by the incompetent handling of various minor scandals.
To be sure these are nothing compared to the scandals of the Major years. But the handling of ‘Plebgate’ and Osborne’s first class upgrade saga has done great damage to the brand. In both cases things have not been how they initially seemed in the press but the mud has stuck with voters because they believe the shoe fits.
If we want to stop UKIP destroying our chances in 2015 we do not need to change our policies. But we do need to shout about them louder, promote more ‘grammar school kids’ and get a grip on the presentation of the party as one of working people, aspiration and responsibility.