The destiny of political insurgencies is often shaped by specific events.
While challenges to mainstream authority might be a long-time coming, anchored in groups of citizens who have long felt ignored or poorly treated, their eruption into political life is often fuelled by a chain of events. In the 14th century, strongly held grievances among rural workers laid the foundation for the Peasants’ Revolt. But it was the arrival of tax collectors in south-east England that proved the final straw, turning a protest into a wider insurgency across much of Essex, Kent, Norfolk and Suffolk.
Fast forward more than 600 years and it is perhaps no coincidence that the same areas of England are emerging as the heartland of a new insurgency against London elites. Much like the Peasants’ Revolt, Ukip is anchored in older grievances among working class Britons who feel left behind economically, are angry about the political elites in London, and profoundly anxious over the pace of social change. And like those workers in the 14th century who flocked around the apparently charismatic Wat Tyler, over the coming weeks Nigel Farage will lead his followers through a chain of events that will determine the destiny of his modern revolt against Westminster.
Ukip is no longer a single-issue party. Since 2010, the party has successfully merged Europe and immigration in the minds of its voters. But its insurgency still faces a major hurdle that is reflected in recent polling by Ipsos Mori. Whereas Ukip has become the preferred party among all voters on the two issues of Europe and immigration, it is not even on the radar when it comes to subjects such as the economy, health and education. So long as immigration remains a top issue – it is currently number one – this narrow appeal does not matter. But this will not always be the case.