The growth of UKIP has prompted some interest in what is being called the Revolt on the Right (see Ford and Goodwin's book of that title), and though understandable in the circumstances such terms distract from those features of the current situation that are truly unusual and might well be the cause of or at least the satisfaction of key preconditions for major political or social change. That is the revolt is not necessarily on the right, or in any particular location on the conventional political spectrum. The growth of UKIP is part of a much broader destabilisation. That is to say, while Ford and Goodwin may be correct in suggesting that the bulk of UKIP's supporters are not educated professionals, that is not the end of the story. As anyone with a slight knowledge of the party will know, the leadership and local executive is drawn from a disaffected pool of people who are literate and numerate in no ordinary measure, and this is a symptom of a more general and important social fact, namely that a considerable part of the educated population is losing respect for the established order, and indeed for the rule of law in the current instantiation, because they no longer feel that their interests are well served. A chance conversation gives me evidence to support this. A benefits fraud investigator told me that the middle classes (her term) were the worst of the lot. I replied that they were so heavily taxed that would resort to such measures in self-protection. She responded that they were just immoral. However, I think that, in spite of the apparent disagreement, we were actually saying the same thing.
This disaffective inclination creates a trend, a tendency that passes out well beyond the graduates and others that compose the bulk of the professional, administrative and education sectors of the population. (It would be interesting to know more of the views of the armed service officers, and the police, but they are a small part of the population, and in any case quite opaque to casual investigation.) Consequently, changes of opinion within this body are not to be underestimated. At least twice in the last century or so a shift there has produced evolutionary change of great magnitude.
Firstly, without a decisive shift in educated opinion towards collectivism, the Labour movement could never have succeeded in forming the transformational Attlee governments, the outlines of whose programme continues to define the character of modern British politics. Indeed, that redefinition has been challenged only once, by Margaret Thatcher, and that was largely unsuccessful. This collectivist shift is detectable everywhere in literature, and other cultural output from the 19th Century onwards, but it gained political salience and force only after the First War. The causes are various, but a fear of revolution, or at least progressive taxation at punitive levels, seems to me likely principal candidates.
Secondly, the moral transformation of the 1960s took place because the educated aided and indeed encouraged the shift rather than resisting it. Mary Whitehouse was a figure of fun to sophisticated minds in a way inconceivable even in the 1920s. Again, the causes are doubtless numerous and diverse in character, but in this case the main drive seems to spring from the perception that traditional sexual morals no longer served their reproductive interests, and that these codes were more restrictive than protective, or had become so. That they were in fact protective should be obvious, and that their collapse did expose some to extreme sexual predation is clear from current scandals. But such outrages were not, I think, the main core of the sexual revolution; rather they were a correlated minority activity made possible by the expansion of sexual choice for the majority of population, an expansion that was and remains popular, suggesting that it still is broadly beneficial and all parties benefit.
Both of these shifts, the emerge of socialism as the common ground of British politics, and sexual liberation, were substantial but gradual changes, and in spite of differences (the Attlee period was still morally conservative) both moved beneath the banner of progressive modernism. The current situation is all the more curious because it lacks any clear focus or legitimising ideology, let alone a pragmatic justification; it is an expression of dissatisfaction, an indication of anger at the disadvantage being thrust upon the individual. It has not yet found a remedy and fixed upon it as an outlet for its energies.
Writing on Christmas day, 1753, Chesterfield observed that "all the symptoms which I ever met with in history previous to great changes and revolutions in government now exist and daily increase in France". We are not in quite that situation, and we do not yet have a 'revolutionary middle class', but the evaporation of the sense of shared endeavour, of public service, and an obvious weakening of respect for the civil, though not yet the criminal law, gives a clear indication of the general direction of travel.