Britain’s newest party is set to become the nation’s most popular, outpacing the nation’s pro-immigration establishment parties, according to polls and initial results from Thursday balloting.
“We are facing a political earthquake,” said one political reporter at a major network.
The UK Independence Party has achieved a “stunning success,” said Lynne Featherstone, a member of parliament for a rival party, and a cabinet minister in the coalition government.
The UKIP’s success is matched by the rise of patriotic or national parties in several other countries, including Denmark, Finland, Sweden and France. It complements the anti-establishment upsurge in the United States, where GOP-linked tea party activists are pushing back against crony capitalism, overreaching government and record levels of immigration.
The initial ballot counts in the U.K. show the UKIP winning roughly 30 percent of the vote in elections for 161 local councils. UKIP’s voters are defectors from both left-wing and right-wing establishment parties. Early media reports also say the UKIP also gained votes from a wave of people who did not vote in prior elections, but did badly in London, where an unusually large proportion of voters are immigrants or wealthy.
The left-wing Labour Party hoped to win many new council seats from the right-of-center Conservative (or “tory”) Party, but instead has won relatively few seats because of defections to UKIP.
By 6:00 p.m. Friday English time, UKIP has gained 134 local seats, while the tory party has lost 132 seats.
“We’ve got to work harder and we’ve got to really deliver on issues that are frustrating people and frustrating me like welfare reform, immigration and making sure that people really benefit from this recovery,” said tory Prime Minister David Cameron.
Vote counting will continue through Sunday, when the winners of the 73 U.K. seats in the European parliament will be announced.
A pre-election poll this week showed that UKIP won support in this election from 27 percent of voters, edging one point ahead of the Labour Party and five points ahead of the Conservatives. The same poll showed that 14 percent of the voters want to vote for UKIP in next year’s parliamentary elections.
Unlike the GOP and the American conservative movement, Britain’s Conservative Party is socially liberal, disdainful of Christianity, and does not wish to shrink the UK’s large central government.
The poll also showed that a left-wing environmental party and an upper-income progressive party won 9 and 10 percent support, respectively. The survey was conducted by a U.K.-based polling firm, YouGov.
UKIP’s support is powered by widespread public dislike of the fast-growing, multi-state government on the European mainland. It is also fueled by alarm over the social conflict and economic turmoil caused by massive multicultural immigration, which was accelerated by the Labour Party in the early 2000s.
“UKIP is a patriotic party that believes in putting Britain first. Only UKIP will return self-government to the British people,” says the party’s webpage.
Immigration has added much vibrant diversity — roughly 3 million Muslims, plus millions of Africans and Eastern Europeans — to a country that recently consisted of a culturally homogenous population of English, Scots and Welsh, plus a few Irish.
“Twenty minutes ago the  immigration figures were out – 526,000 people settled in this country last year,” UKIP leader Nigel Farage said, as he was about to vote on Thursday morning. “It’s just impossible. We cannot go on with numbers like that.”
The population of the UK is 63 million. That’s roughly one fifth the population of the United States, which accepts roughly 1 million immigrants and 800,000 temporary guest-workers per year.
Since the 2008 economic crash, leading establishment politicians on the right and left have criticized the huge inflow. But they have failed to reduce the growing inflow of Europeans, partly because the UK gave up control of its borders to the expanding European government. The UK’s membership in the European Union is strongly backed by the London-based financial sector, plus the political and media elite.
On other issues, such as government spending, health, crime and education, UKIP’s policy platform is moderate, although it is routinely described as “right wing” by U.S. and European media outlets.
UKIP is fervently criticized by the British establishment, including the major parties, the media and the major business and banking lobbies. UKIP’s critics tend to support greater immigration and the subordination of the British parliament to the European parliament.
There’s a similar clash in the United States, where President Barack Obama, progressives and business groups are pushing to subordinate Congress to administration regulations, to judges’ decisions, and to international law.
They’re also pushing to double the inflow of immigrants via a “comprehensive immigration reform.” The planned inflow of 33 million immigrants and millions of guest workers over 10 years would be similar to the current inflow into Britain.
That push is being resisted by some GOP leaders and by the public, which is worried by the stalled economy and the loss of middle-class prosperity. Numerous independent polls show most Americans want to reduce the inflow of immigrants and guest workers, which amounted to 26 million people from 2000 to 2013, according to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service.
The main test for UKIP, however, will come in 2015, when parliamentary elections are held.
Even if UKIP wins 30 percent of the votes in 2015, it won’t necessarily get an equivalent percentage of seats in parliament, because seats are awarded to the party with the most votes within each of the 650 varied parliamentary districts. In practice, a party supported by 40 percent of the electorate will win enough parliamentary seats to form a government.
A BBC analysis of the elections predicted UKIP could win 17 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections, leaving the tory party with 29 percent and Labour with 31 percent of the vote. The progressive Liberal Democratic Party would be left with 13 percent of the vote, while the left-wing greens and other fringe parties would get 10 percent, the BBC predicted.
That’s a problem for the Labour Party, whose leaders were expecting to win enough seats to form a government.
But any prediction is uncertain.
That’s because British elections are fought by several parties, who can strike deals with rival parties to not compete against each other in selected districts.
In British politics, political parties can also be killed off. In 1922, for example, voters walked away from the centrist ruling Liberal Party, causing it to shrink until it held only six seats in the 650-seat parliament in the 1950s.
So far, a majority of UKIP’s voters are defectors from the tory party, which has supported high levels of immigration and is opposed to independence from the European government.
But UKIP is also pulling many votes from left-of-center parties, including the upper-income progressive party, the Liberal Democrat Party. That party is the junior member in the nation’s two-party left-right coalition government with the tory party, but they expect to lose all 11 of its European parliament seats because of UKIP, according to the Guardian newspaper. By Friday evening, the party had been hit hard, and lost 172 local seats.
“I think in some parts of the country we’ve had discontent building up for decades about the way the country has been run and about the way our economy works and people feeling that the country just doesn’t work for them,” said Ed Milliband, the leader of the Labour Party. “What you are seeing in some parts of the country is people turning to UKIP as an expression of that discontent and that desire for change,” he said.
UKIP was “causing mayhem” to the Labour Party’s support in the council elections, said one Labour politician from the southern district of Portsmouth. For example, UKIP won 10 seats on Rotherham council in northern England. Those seats came from both the tory and the Labour parties, and made UKIP the second-ranking party on the council.
John Healey, a Labour member of parliament for the area, told the Guardian newspaper that UKIP’s win “is a message for all the political parties: wake up. People are angry.”
“I was out knocking on doors and one man, a lifelong Labour voter, said to me: ‘John, I’m voting for Ukip today. You all need a kicking,’” Healey said.