So Ukip did come second in the Wythenshawe by-election (and Labour won, of course). David Cameron says the 4,301 votes (17.95% of the vote and a 14.5% swing) that John Bickley won wasn’t ‘the sort of break through that people were talking about’. The Prime Minister, who saw his own party pushed into third place with 14.5% (3,479 votes), did also say that ‘obviously messages are sent, and signals are sent and protests are made and governments should always listen to those things and I always do’.
Now, the usual caveat that you can’t extrapolate very much from a by-election in one constituency applies. But Ukip can reasonably claim that it is becoming the official opposition in the north when it comes to by-elections at least. And that it is now no longer a surprise when the party comes second shows how far it has come.
The real question, though, is who the party stole its votes from. In my interview with Paul Nuttall this week, he described Labour voters as ‘low-hanging fruit’. The swing from Tory to Labour was 11%, and it may be that Ukip simply split the Conservative vote to give Labour the comfortable 13,261 votes (55.3%). Which makes them dangerous in the North, but not for Labour.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.