A Return to Conservatism Could Save the Tory MP; Resurgence of Labor Threatens to Derail the Cameron Coalition

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Byline: Michael Taube, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

David Cameron, prime minister of the United Kingdom, doesn't have to face the electorate until May 2015. Yet there is a strong possibility his minority Tory government could fall earlier than expected.

In last week's by-election in Eastleigh, Mr. Cameron was hoping for a victory in the heavily targeted district. Mike Thornton of the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in the coalition government, was ultimately able to hold on to the seat for his party. In what most observers regarded as a major upset, however, the Tory candidate, Maria Hutchings, finished third - well behind Mr. Thornton and, more surprisingly, UK Independence Party candidate Diane James.

The UK Independence Party used to be a disjointed fringe group that primarily stood for one issue: the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union. It often picked up the support of some Euro skeptics (typically ex-Tories), but constantly struggled to increase its overall popular vote. The party also suffered from accusations of xenophobia, both outside and inside the ranks. In one notable example, London School of Economics history professor Alan Sked, the party's founder, resigned as leader in 1997. He has called the UK Independence Party racist ... infected by the far-right and doomed to remain on the political fringes.

Mr. Sked's analysis is now open to some interpretation. Under the current leadership of Nigel Farage, the UK Independence Party can be more accurately described as libertarian. It holds some solid economic positions, including favoring corporate tax cuts and wiping out the inheritance tax. The party still maintains strong nationalist policies on issues such as immigration and international trade. Even so, it has cobbled together a more respectable-looking party (on the surface, anyway) by acquiring disgruntled ex-Tory, Liberal Democratic and even Labor supporters.

The party has had moderate success in party representation. The UK Independence Party, like other small political parties, has done well in European elections. It won three seats and 7 percent in 1999, and now has 11 members in the European Parliament, including Mr. Farage. The party also has a representative in the Northern Ireland Assembly and three members in the United Kingdom's upper chamber, the House of Lords - albeit owing to party defections.

Yet the biggest thorn in the UK Independent Party's side remains the fact it's never won a seat in the UK Parliament. That trend looks like it's about to change, however. …