Coalition parties given a caning after UKIP gains

UKIP leader Nigel Farage is pictured in Westminster this morning. Credit: Jeff Moore/Empics Entertainment

The fact that the governing parties were given a caning in today's local elections hardly came as a surprise to anyone. But at the end of a remarkable day for UKIP, here are some thoughts.

1) The UKIP surge will almost certainly be replicated in the European elections next May, which will guarantee them at least a year of being a factor to be reckoned with in British politics. This is in itself significant, because it guarantees still more coverage and attention.

2) Part of that coverage will centre around the question of the TV debates in the general election itself. The idea of David Cameron agreeing to share a podium with Nigel Farage seems frankly remote at this stage, but the very fact that the question is already being raised will help UKIP and the solution may ultimately not lie in David Cameron's hands.

What if one TV company or another decided to hold a debate with all the leaders 'willing to put themselves up' and everyone agreed but Mr Cameron? That might not look so clever.

3) This is widely viewed as a protest vote and that is almost certainly true, at least in part. A general election is a very different beast; incumbency is a big factor and people are well aware that the question of who we really want to be in Downing Street is of a different order of magnitude. But we still don't have a clear handle on how the coalition has impacted on voters' psychology.

Before 2010, both the main parties and an awful lot of commentators argued that the sky would fall in if we had a coalition. Well, we do have one and it plainly hasn't. In fact, one might argue that it is more stable than a lot of single party governments.

So does this encourage voters to opt for smaller parties? Are they less inclined to buy the idea that their vote will be 'wasted'? If so, voters may go into the next general election with a very complicated series of equations in their minds; should they vote UKIP to guarantee a referendum, or is opting for the Tories the best way to make sure of that? Do they vote Lib Dem to block the Tories from spinning to the right or Labour to the left?

4) The Tories didn't do as badly today as many people predicted. It certainly wasn't a meltdown and the Labour leadership has plenty of questions to ask of itself. There is absolutely no sign of a Labour surge despite the dire economic conditions and that leads most commentators to conclude that there is every chance that we will wake up to another hung parliament in May 2015. The only question may be; who leads the biggest party?