Britain's version of Tea Party rocks political system across the pond

The often stale British political system is being rocked by its very own Tea Party.

The UK Independence Party (UKIP), formed in 1993 opposing Britain’s entry into the European Union, failed to make an electoral dent for a long time. However UKIP has built up steam in recent years and is spearheading a seismic shift in the British political spectrum.

In this year’s local elections – the British version of midterms -- UKIP took a stunning 23 percent of the vote, up from the 3.1 percent they won in the 2010 national election. Their leader, Nigel Farage, is buoyed by their recent success.

“We want to take back our country, we want to take back our government, and we want to take back our birthright,” Farage told in forthright language rarely seen in British politics.


Farage has good reason to be confident of UKIP’s potential. Since he took the party's helm for a second time in 2010, the party has been revitalized, capitalizing on dissatisfaction with the Conservative Party’s shift to the center under current Prime Minister David Cameron.

Cameron has radically overhauled the “Tories,” embracing nationalized health care, fighting for gay marriage, and changing the party logo from the flame of liberty to an environmentally conscious tree. This, UKIP argues, makes them indistinguishable from the left-wing Labour Party and Liberal Democrats.

It is here where UKIP spied an opportunity, adopting an anti-establishment, populist platform that argues for lower taxation, smaller government and getting Britain out of the European Union.

The message is proving effective. UKIP look likely to make significant inroads in the next general election in 2015, possibly snatching seats away from the main parties.

Farage is not getting ahead of himself however, instead focusing on the European elections in May 2014, where Europe is the determining factor.

Britain has been turning decidedly away from Europe in recent years, with a September Opinium poll finding that 53 percent of British voters wanted to leave the E.U., with only 32 percent wanting to stay.

“The sense of frustration the Tea Party feels about the remoteness about the bureaucratic class of the Washington beltway is similar to our frustration with being dealt with by Brussels,” said Farage.

Many experts agree. Andrew Russell, Head of Politics at the University of Manchester, told that the comparison between the Tea Party and UKIP is an accurate one, and that he believes that UKIP could take the 2014 elections by storm,

“UKIP will do well in the 2014 European elections. They may even win them in terms of the popular vote. This will increase the pressure on the Conservatives.”

Yet instead of reaching out and finding middle ground, the Tories have snubbed UKIP. In 2006 David Cameron dismissed the newcomers as full of “fruitcakes and loonies and closet racists,” and top Tory Kenneth Clark recently branded them as “a collection of clowns.”

However, Russell is unsure as to whether UKIP’s popularity could translate to general election success.

“Euro elections are low intensity, low turnout contests,” Russell said. “The real contest 12 months later will draw in a much wider electorate. In that contest, UKIP will struggle. They don't have a single MP and barring the leader and a recent by-election candidate don't have high profile candidates who could even dream of winning a Commons seat.”

Yet both the Tories and Labour have been shaken into action, adopting tougher lines on immigration and Europe, with the euro-friendly Prime Minister Cameron promising a 2017 referendum on E.U. membership if he is still Prime Minister.

As a right-wing libertarian, populist movement, there are many comparisons to be drawn with the Tea Party, yet Farage argues that there are differences too, particularly that UKIP wants to take votes away from the Tories, not to reform them.

It is here that could make them bigger in Britain than the Tea Party in America – UKIP is making inroads as a party, not just through individual candidates.

What remains to be seen is how UKIP will capitalize on their situation, and in that the next year will be vital.

“Like the Tea Party UKIP might have a profound effect on their closest neighbors politically,” Russell told “But like the Tea Party they might repel the crucial section of support needed for that party to win.”

Adam Shaw can be contacted here.