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UKIP and Labour

Trailing his article in this month’s Total Politics, Mark Ferguson asks if Labour should be worried about UKIP? On first glance, no. C4’s analysis of the Eastleigh by-election shows just seven per cent of UKIP voters previously supported Labour. This is broadly supported by YouGov’s recent research. UKIP have an order of magnitude greater pull with Tories than Labour voters. Indeed they have more of an attractor among former LibDem voters too, probably because the yellow party has left the ‘none of the above’ situation vacant. So should we sit back and grab the popcorn as they duke it out? Definitely not.

Mark makes the crucial argument. The danger from UKIP is not electoral, it’s political. Three quick points:

  1. Remember the 00s when the BNP made dangerous inroads into what were previously regarded as core Labour areas? The conditions they fed off – inadequate housing, poor job prospects, unemployment, insecurity – none of these have gone away. The BNP itself is a busted flush, for the time being, but the despair and the poverty that sustained them has redoubled under the LibDem-supported Tory government. Switching from one band of xenophobes to another doesn’t take much, especially when UKIP has proven far more adept playing the anti-politics populist card. In Stoke-on-Trent, for example, UKIP have tried taking a ride on the bandwagon of the local protest movement. In other places where Labour-run councils are having to make unpalatable decisions, especially where the BNP have a previous track record, posing as the champion of working Britons while making the usual hysterical noises about immigration, the EU and so on can, and will (over the long term) give Labour a headache.
  2. UKIP owes its prominence to the disproportionate media coverage it attracts, but that does not make it any less real. UKIP is part of a hard right tendency to completely unravel what remains of the post-war consensus. As UKIP benefits from unchallenging media coverage so all of British political discourse is pushed to the right. Hardly constitutive of the ideal grounds for any kind of left and socialist politics.
  3. Labour cannot out-UKIP UKIP, and shouldn’t even try. Doorstep patter in traditional Labour areas should focus on their similarities to the Tories. After all, few people are aware our populists favour very unpopular policies like cutting taxes on the wealthy (bringing down the top rate of tax to a flat tax of 31%, and abolishing employers’ National Insurance contributions). The UKIP manifesto is full of hostages to fortune – you do not need to be a stat-quoting wonk to select a few howlers. But crucially the way for Labour to properly crush UKIP is to commit itself to a programme that offers security and hope. If UKIP particularly and populist anti-politics generally rests on insecurity, Labour – whether through the One Nation prism or not – has to be bold and say what needs to be done to restore security and stability to people’s lives. If we don’t, UKIP will, and that’s a sure fire way to store up future tragedy for us all.

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