The UKIP story can end one of three ways. None of them, despite Nigel Farage's claims to be at the head of a "people's army", will resolve the problem of political alienation.
UKIP could crash and burn at the next election registering maybe just 2% of the vote, never to recover the popularity of the last week. The main parties will breathe a big sigh of relief and Farage will be consigned to the dustbin of history as Karl Marx almost certainly would have said. Politics will continue as usual with the persistent simmering of discontent from the population undiminished.
Alternatively, UKIP could replace the Lib Dems as a permanent party of protest never really making an electoral breakthrough but never disappearing entirely. We would be back to the situation of the last three decades: a small party attracts votes mid-term and in by-elections as the electorate expresses its frustration with politics but then feels obliged to grudgingly support one of the main parties in an election that actually matters. Once again, the situation remains fundamentally unchanged.
Finally, UKIP make a real breakthrough securing enough seats to become a partner in a coalition government or some other parliamentary pact. Like the Lib Dems, this would destroy UKIP. Forced to make the same compromises and play the Westminster game at its highest and most cynical level, voters would leave UKIP in droves and alienation would remain and maybe even be exacerbated. Given its form, UKIP would probably be beset by just as many expenses, funding and other scandals as the main parties further reinforcing a view that the Party is no different to the political establishment it claims to oppose. Never would the lament "they're all the same" have such popular force.
The truth is if you really want to end political alienation, the last thing you should do is set up a political party. As I argued here parties are the source of that alienation not its resolution. Parties are structurally hierarchical, short-termist, self-interested and pointlessly adversarial. It is these features that drive alienation and UKIP would have more luck defying the laws of thermodynamics than escaping them - indeed it already displays every one of them in spades.
Ultimately politicians and voters have a choice. Either live with political alienation as a permanent feature of our system or fundamentally reform the way we do politics so that people can genuinely feel that they are making the decisions rather than having them made by a distant elite they neither understand nor respect.
Creating that sense of ownership and genuine engagement with political decisions would be based on the three D's:
Devolve decision-making power to smaller political units such as local authorities and neighbourhoods
Make our political representatives delegates rather than representatives of those who elect them
Introduce sophisticated processes of deliberation to inform the decisions taken by the people we elect.
Currently voters are not being offered that choice between maintaining the status quo or such fundamental change. Last week's political turmoil will not alter that.
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