“What is one to make of the rise of UKIP?” – asked nobody with any commonsense, ever.

That having been said, there are plenty of people with no commonsense desperate to shrinkwrap a simple answer to the problem of the purple and yellow party (by remarkable coincidence the colour of a particularly nasty looking bruise). “The UKIP vote is a vote against the mainstream political parties who to varying degrees run the politics of the UK”, claim some.

“A resounding vote against Europe, or austerity, or immigration”, claim others. “A vote against the Lib Dems”, opine still others, In fact, there are a number of political and mechanical reasons for the outcomes in local and European elections,

The mechanics of the UKIP victory, to my mind, needs a reminder of why 2009 went so differently. Except in Tower Hamlets, political medium-term memory is foggy. People seem to be interpreting this year’s shift in European Parliament elections in line with the national share calculations from the 2010 general election – which makes no sense, psephologically or in context of history. 2009 was a weird election. It went like this:

Why did Labour get shafted in 2009?
During the expenses scandal, because there were many more Labour MPs than Tory MPs, Labour were disproportionately fingered. That, plus the incredible unpopularity of Gordon Brown, the Brown denial of the seriousness of the economic crash in the UK and the ‘Brown Bottle’ – the election there never was, led to Labour getting a serious shafting at the 2009 European Parliament elections.

Why did the Conservatives do so well in 2009?
Tories stood in 2009 on a ‘my goodness, Labour really are useless and we’re going to win next year anyway’ ticket. Cameron said there was a repatriation of powers debate ahead. Those resonated pretty well. Also, Gordon Brown said ‘don’t vote Conservative’, which helped.

Why didn’t UKIP do better in 2009?
UKIP was in disarray in 2009 after all sorts of crazy internal political crises, and they were seen as a bit too close in theory to the BNP. They were in no fit state to take on anyone, and as a result their election in 2009 was very nearly the end for the party.

Why did Lib Dems do well in 2009?
Actually, they did OK in 2009, but the campaign wasn’t particularly good, since they were in preparation for the general election. This was pre ‘I agree with Nick’ and the incredible growth of Lib Dems hadn’t occurred yet – we had to wait a year for that.

So what was the context of this election?

People seem a bit confused that they don’t like Ed Miliband a little bit more – but there is no doubt at all that this election shows a clear majority still eludes the red team. Yes – they came 2nd and beat the Conservatives into 3rd place for the first time in recent electoral history – but only in extraordinary circumstances where people first cast a vote in favour of a referendum on membership of the EU.

A referendum on membership is now a fixture on the political horizon, whether Ed loves it or not. He should now do his best to neutralise the issue by at least matching David Cameron’s commitment to a renegotiation and referendum, but he won’t – he isn’t convinced that anything needs renegotiated and isn’t convinced that a referendum is a good idea.

As a result, he’s now in an awful position – if he agrees to include a referendum in his manifesto the election becomes entirely a referendum on him vs Cameron – and he absolutely consistently loses on that metric in every poll.

So there.