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Man of the moment: Douglas Carswell, UKIP's first elected MP, won a crushing by-election victory against his old party, the Tories (photo: Carl Court/Getty Images)

Autumn has not been a good time for the European Union. In Britain, a by-election win in Clacton gave UKIP an MP and rammed home to Brussels the unwelcome message that the electorate may want to exercise the break clause. Meanwhile, across the Channel, France and Germany, the EU's lynchpins, face dismal economic forecasts. The upshot there may be that Berlin and Paris now face the same question that haunts London: where should power lie?

Indeed, not only was there UKIP's victory in Clacton, where Douglas Carswell, who had defected from the Conservatives, his party for over 20 years, won 60 per cent of the vote to the Conservative's 25. Two hundred miles to the north-west, Labour almost lost its safe Heywood and Middleton seat to UKIP. It now seems that UKIP's victory in last May's European elections was not the flash in the pan or "protest" vote many assumed it to be. Something is happening in British politics, something today's leaders may not understand. As Carswell told the Clacton people in his victory speech, he resigned and stood for re-election because "I answer first, foremost and last to you. You are my boss. I will not let you down." 

The MP British voters elect represents them, deliberates in Parliament on policy and as a member of that forum holds the government of the day to account, protecting the liberty of men and women. This in practice means the freedom to live their lives under the law, to work and prosper and to turn their MP (and government) out for failing. Britain's way of life is guaranteed by this accountability, the leitmotif of British democracy: accountability of government to parliament, and of MPs to the voters. That accountability and the responsibility which it implies was nurtured by the great 20th-century political leaders, Baldwin and Churchill, who believed it imperative for the new age of mass democracy. However it has been eroded by EU rule and undermined by "PR" politics, which first dominated under Tony Blair. MPs are required to answer, not to their constituents, but to their party managers for whom the image the party should convey matters more than the reality of voters' views; the government benches are swamped by the payroll (or automatic "yes") vote, and the main parties whip MPs mercilessly to support the official line. However, for Westminster at least, the voters retain the last word: they can refuse their vote or turn out their politician at election time. But over the unelected lawmakers of Brussels they are powerless.

UKIP's new voters are many and varied. They include London lawyers, Oxbridge academics, business leaders, and a broad cross section of the social and economic mix which makes up Britain's electorate. They also include in especially large numbers the important group left behind by the PR men and their political masters: the C2s, the working — and lower-middle-class voters who gave Margaret Thatcher three victories and her successor John Major a fourth. They remain a strong but forgotten force, neither politicised nor political. For them, the EU spells an end to life as they know it. Those in business see jobs and orders lost to leaner economies as business goes down under the weight of EU rules and compliance costs; employees see their wages undercut by cheaper foreign labour; families are forced to split siblings into different schools because of pressure from newcomers on places. Such voters earn their own way, want no favours from government and have no illusions about the basics of capitalism. They know how hard it is to find and keep a job and prosper in a tough market, and that for this trading nation to survive it needs to work hard, selling its goods to Europe and to the world.

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