As the dust settles on the Rochester and Strood by-election, what will prove its enduring image? Yet another snap of a jubilant Nigel Farage, pint aloft as he celebrates another stunning Ukip victory? Depressed and deflated Tory activists seeing the proverbial kitchen sink thrown back in their faces? Or Emily Thornberry’s sneering tweet of white van man’s castle plastered in the flag of St George?
A good case could be made for any one of them. But Ms Thornberry’s contempt for the kind of people who used to provide the bedrock of the Labour vote is likely to prove the most significant.
Ukip began life as a predominantly Tory uprising against the established order. Farage, with his colourful jackets and even more colourful opinions, epitomises 19th hole Conservatism. He is, or was, the archetypal member of the Tory tribe, the patriotic, hard-working and uncomplaining lower middle class who have sustained the Tory party for decades.
In May, when Ukip made its breakthrough in the European elections, half of its supporters were Conservative defectors and only about one in seven were refugees from a Labour Party that has steadily been losing touch with its core vote.
But the political landscape is changing fast. Ukip made headlines when Douglas Carswell overcame a five figure Tory majority in Clacton. But just as significant was the other by-election that night when Heywood and Middleton in Greater Manchester came within a whisker of turning from the deepest red to Ukip purple.
Increasingly, Ukip’s policies and rhetoric are aimed at winning over Labour voters and now seats such as the socialist stronghold of Grimsby are being spoken of as Ukip targets.
Ukip may have started life as a rebellion against David Cameron’s metropolitan brand of modernised Conservatism – all gay marriage and windmills on the roof – but it is morphing into something that represents a real threat to the established order.
No wonder Ed Miliband was livid at Thornberry’s disdain for the “chavs” with tattoos and vans and sacked her on the spot from her frontbench job as Shadow Attorney General. She had trashed her own customers, as Gerald Ratner did with his jewellery business all those years ago or as Gordon Brown did at the last election with his contemptuous dismissal of “that bigoted woman”.
As Kathy Gyngell has written on this site, Labour has been hijacked by a sub-Marxist feminist clique of which Thornberry, with her £3 million North London “mansion” and High Court judge husband, is a prime example.
As for Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems after yet another loss of their deposit, they have virtually disappeared from the national political radar screen.
All three of the so-called established parties are suffering from the same deadly affliction. Ruled as they are by a university educated, politically correct, metropolitan and immature elite, they have lost the connection with the only people who matter – the voters.
This elite, because it extends deep into the City, business, the civil service, the unions, the schools and universities, has not served the country well these past years. It has given us the worst financial crisis in a century, mass immigration with no reference to public opinion, declining living standards but expenses fiddling by MPs on an industrial scale, indifferent health and education services, rule by a foreign power (the EU), and chaos in the Middle East and now Ukraine.
No one knows how far and fast the Ukip surge will extend. Farage is surely right to say that the next election is up for grabs. Almost anything can happen.
But one thing seems almost certain now. Neither the Conservatives or the Labour Party will emerge with enough seats to form a majority government. Faced with serious economic and security threats at home and abroad, we will have to face them with a weak and uncertain government. Look forward to another minority administration.