As candidiates, activists, journalists and many others watched the local election results trickle in throughout yesterday, there was an overarching theme of the day that was impossible to ignore: UKIP. Nigel Farage's zombie army of disaffected Tories, BNP members seeking respectability and protesters against the status quo were nothing if not effective in their attempted conquest of English councils up and down the land. With the unwavering support of a somewhat awestruck BBC desperately seeking popularity, Farage was able to become the story of the day with UKIP supposedly sending “clear messages” to all three main parties and David Cameron rapidly changing his opinion on the loonies and racists he had previously derided.
UKIP are though, it would seem, the kings and queens of second place. Although they ended up gaining 139 seats overall, the vast majority of their acheivement involved nestling up so tightly behind Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors that you'd think they had no concept of personal space. Their silver medals made them the talking point of the day to such an extent that coverage by the media, not least by the non-partisan BBC, appeared to many to be a tad unrepresentative. According to the media, no-one wanted to hear about hundreds of somewhat mundane non-UKIP seats; we had all succumbed to The Farage Effect.
The main losers of the day were certainly the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats who ended up losing 335 and 124 seats respectively. With a mid-term election, some losses are obviously to be expected although this is possibly more than either party had bargained for. Notable also was the South Shields by-election in which the Nick Clegg's rapidly evaporating gang of meanderers achieved a less-than-pitiful seventh place with half as many votes as the BNP candidate and the embarrassing forfeiture of their deposit.
As the main opposition, this should have been a good day for Labour. Unfortunately, Ed Milibland had set phasers to “underwhelm” and, although making modest gains, failed to do enough to impede the progress of Farage's steamroller. The vote “for” UKIP was in many places a vote “against” the biggest three parties and the supposed main opposition party appeared to be in no place to provide a safe haven for the disillusioned. One thing was clear, we no longer have a clear-cut two-party system or any derivative of such. The “clear message” was really that a huge number of people are fed up with how our politics works (or doesn't) and something needs to change. And change now.
In amongst all the talk of two-party, three-party and four-party systems, there was one party whose results went largely unreported, who made modest gains and who, most importantly, had an apparent immunity to the UKIP epidemic. The Green Party ended the day a total of five seats up with notable gains in Warrington, Oxford and Hythe, the latter of which boasted the largest turnout of all Kent wards (39.95%).
So why was the Green Party immune? There are probably a number of factors. It's quite probable that the alternative path walked by green politics is less fascinating to the mass media; for that we should perhaps be cautiously grateful. It's also possible that a large percentage of Green Party supporters already feel as though they're with an alternative (or even protest) party, so UKIP would have nothing to offer in that regard. Whatever the reason, we Greens should maybe take a brief moment today to allow ourselves a wry smile. In amongst all the battles for political dominance and the circus of media madness, Greens are continuing to make steady progress towards a better and more stable kind of politics. And it would appear that no amount of unabashed Faragery can touch that.