Comment - By Gary Shipton, Editor In Chief
In West Sussex as the rest of the England where council elections were held on Thursday, UKIP was the star of the show.
From nowhere, they challenged the established three parties like never before - securing seats and chasing close behind in many others.
Their ascendancy has been meteoric and the Conservatives, Labour, and Lib Dems need to take very seriously the national message the voters are sending.
Ken Clarke may have dubbed UKIP ‘clowns’ but the joke was on him as the results unfolded. Mr Farage’s party has had the last laugh.
But in West Sussex there was another story too.
The Conservatives maintained their vice-like grip on West Sussex County Council - and if they lost seats to UKIP they gained them in equal measure from the Lib Dems.
There is good reason for that.
In West Sussex, under the supreme leadership of Louise Goldsmith, the Tories have focussed on what really matters to people - paring costs to the bone and freezing council tax for three years.
They have responded to the issues of flooding and they have had the courage to take the toughest of decisions. That takes guts.
Based on their record, they deserved to win and win handsomely.
They performed especially strongly in Mid Sussex and I congratulate local Tories there, not least the district council leader Garry Wall and his team.
Labour performed well in its heartland of Crawley, gaining four new seats. Thanks to great champions such as Brenda Smith and Chris Oxlade, it fought a strong campaign as ever on local issues - but its party nationally will need to break out of pockets like this into the wider south of England if it is truly to become the one nation governing party to which it aspires.
And what of the Lib Dems?
Always principled and conscientious in representing their local constituencies, they have paid a heavy price for coalition partnership at Westminster and for the rise of UKIP. It is difficult to win support as a pro-European party when so many West Sussex residents detest the bureaucracy that is the EU and are desperate to leave.
If they are to stage a comeback they need to raise their game and show they can be a better opposition than UKIP. It’s not impossible - Morwen Millson, James Walsh, and David Sheldon are among the parties great ambassadors.
But this election belongs to UKIP.
Nationally, their choice of candidates and the robustness of their policies may have been a little threadbare in places and open to scrutiny and challenge. But that’s not why they won votes.
Nor is it even that they are a party of protest.
UKIP represents traditional, family values; of standing up for Britain; of fighting for jobs for local people; of restoring grammar schools and investing in ability; of protecting free speech; of defending our green fields; of understanding that our roots are Christian and that children do best when they grow up in a loving, secure home.
Immigration control is important - if virtually impossible from within the EU - but that our borders should be welcoming to anyone who can positively contribute to our country, on the same basis as Australia.
None of this is racist. There was a time when it would have been central to the thinking of all three major parties.
Political correctness has brushed much of this debate under the carpet for too long.
I do hope that the votes on Thursday will put all these issues back on the mainstream agenda for honest, sensible and sensitive debate.