It is ironic that Ukip – a party obsessed with a supranational institution – is mostly likely to gain its first taste of power in local government. Following last week’s elections they have an additional 161 councillors in England with concentrations of numbers in former strongholds of both Labour and the Conservatives.
The party’s path to local leadership will be tough as the electoral cycle is not in its favour. Most of the councils where they have new strength will not vote again for three years and those that do have more regular elections tend to elect on thirds, making for slow progress.
Nonetheless, it would take a brave psephologist to rule out the idea of a Ukip or Ukip-led coalition council somewhere in the country by 2016. For example, If Labour win power nationally, their vote will probably decline in subsequent local elections, and they will suffer at Ukip’s hands in places like Rotherham and Oldham. If the Conservatives remain in charge, the voters might wish to punish the government in areas like Basildon or Southend in Essex.
The transition from protest party to executive power can be extraordinarily difficult: look at the Greens in Brighton. So what should Ukip be doing to get ready?
The main thing is for the party to decide whether it really wants power at all. Ukip has a ‘no whip’ policy and its local government spokesman has said that his councillors should be ‘independents on steroids’. This is supplemented by plans for local referendums on practically all major local decisions.
This kind of direct democracy may be tempting to offer as a party of opposition, threatening the current establishment. But it will make forming a stable administration quite difficult. This is a problem, because any Ukip council leader will soon realise that their real job is to administer cuts to their budget over which they have little control.