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Ed Miliband needs to challenge the UKIP surge

At the time of writing (15:47) UKIP has won 78 seats and is averaging 25% of the vote in the wards where it is standing. That is quite something. Not only is it making the Tories look stupid and the Liberal Democrats look irrelevant, it makes Labour look like they haven’t the nous to be an effective opposition.

This is to change. As Rafael Behr has written in his New Statesman column this week politicians have two choices; they can yield or defy. The Labour leader clearly has an eye, at least, to the latter.

Miliband may have dropped a clanger when on World At One (Wato) he buckled under the pressure of admitting Labour will have to borrow to keep its economic promises (he ought to have been briefed by Ed Balls’ team on the progressive case for borrowing – the Tories currently are a case in point of worst practice borrowing), but on the streets (where it matters) the job is a good ‘un.

Demonstrating that the crowd isn’t all planted, over came a bloke to Ed to tell him how shit he is (or something to that effect). To make matters worse he then went on about those immigrants (we all know those circular conversations).

We’ve been here before; Labour leaders don’t necessarily have form when it comes to dealing with bigotry. But Miliband nailed it. Not only did he debate the man on his own terms and win, but he also repeatedly told the man that he profusely disagreed with him; that his opinion on immigrants was wrong.

People have made a lot of fuss about this incident in the press. When I first saw it I must admit, as a Labour supporter not keen to rock the boat, I did initially (but silently) think: big deal; politician summons up courage to talk to real human being – what a headline!

But when I listened back I was more impressed with how Ed was determined not to be a one-size-fits-all politician. He more or less told the man that he will not simply reflect back what he says. This is really important and I hope Ed keeps it up.

He’s got a good thing going on, I hear you say, why on earth would he give it up? Well, this has everything to do with the UKIP surge. Us politicos know that underneath UKIP is not really every thing to every man. They are a party with a plan. They are the heirs to Thatcher (apparently).

UKIP is a conservative libertarian party (note not a libertarian conservative party) that have a knack for saying what some of us want to hear.

Just look at their economic plans: cut taxes (yeah, right on, why should we keep paying government ministers to take first class on trains when we haven’t had a pay rise in years); spend more on pensioners (yeah, right on, why should my pension money be squandered when all these politicians have second houses, spending our money on dry rot); leave the EU (yeah, right on, who are all these EU mandarins anyway); pay down our national debt (yeah, right on, how has borrowing ever helped anything).

They, as a party, make no sense; they don’t want the impossible, but the incompatible. However they tap into popular sentiment very effectively. The Left needs to learn how to do this again, but it needs to do this without losing its soul.

That’s why I mention Ed’s recent challenge to the shouty man. If Ed had just agreed with him he would have been patronising him. That he disagreed with him earnt him the man’s respect and a handshake afterwards.

The rise of UKIP will probably mean, for the Tories, a shift to the populist right. That’s their look-out. Labour must look at the rise of UKIP and remind themselves of the need to also tap into popular sentiment, but challenge it where necessary. That’s where they will gain respect.

Ed did more than just speak to the man on the street that day and he should continue to do so in order that the next election brings resounding results for Labour, not the right.


  1. John P Reid says:

    don’t see why Ukip would mean th Tories swing to the right, loaubr didn’t swing to o the right with the SDP,

    actually Ukip are more left wing than other parties on drugs, legalising prostitution, porn etc,

  2. THom K says:

    John; we didn’t for the 1983 Election, but we did over the course of the next few years. The Tories have a bit longer between now and the election than we did then, and some big figures who would like to see a major tack to the right anyway.

    Also, Carl, do you have a link to the video of Miliband and the Shoutyman?

  3. Gerry says:

    John – you couldnt be more wrong!

    On all the major issues – economic, social and political – UKIP are unreconstructed Thatcherites, and say so themselves! Smaller state (except of course on defence and the police) and deregulation/privatisation…they are 100% a hard-right party but yes, with wide appeal to many Thatcherite working/middle class voters in the South, London and the Midlands.

  4. Alex says:

    The Tories are going to set a trap for Labour with this EU referendum thing. Labour really needs to offer/support a referendum otherwise we’ll be hammered by the right in 2015.

    John: UKIP are definitely hard right. Although they have *some* socially liberal members (albeit with extremely right wing economic policies) they are generally extremely conservative.

  5. John p Reid says:

    Gerry, but Thatcher was liberal on social issues, abortion, legalising homosexuality, the divorce laws, banning badger bating, they may be Thathcerite, but were formed by a former Liberal and an Labour member and had ex Labour m.p Robert Kilroy Silk in their ilk, Nikki Sinclair is transgender, and I stand by on what I’ve read about their view on legalising prostitution and drugs,

    Thom K, yes the Tories may swing to the right after the next election, but ukips support isn’t going to make them do it now,

  6. Tom Blackburn says:

    I think trying to recast Margaret ‘Section 28’ Thatcher as a social libertarian is a bit of a stretch, John. She was most definitely a true-blue social conservative. Certainly anyone who was at Orgreave or the Beanfield would have good reason to doubt Thatcher’s socially liberal credentials.

    UKIP’s libertarianism has fallen by the wayside as the party has moved to win over right-wing Tory voters. Its stance on marriage equality, for instance, was distinctly anti-libertarian. It has a libertarian wing but it’s becoming a less and less influential one.

    What’s interesting though is that the Tories have totally failed to head off the rise of UKIP by moving closer to its policies. Cameron’s in-out EU referendum pledge, in particular, has proven to be a damp squib. Perhaps there’s a lesson in there for Labour – triangulation alone doesn’t always do the trick.

  7. Alex says:

    John UKIP have aggressively gone after hardline Tories who were angry about equal marriage. Just look at their candidates – riddled with homophobes. Very few social libertarians prepared to support LGBT rights. Their youth leader was one such person, but was forced out for being socially liberal. Don’t be under any illusions – UKIP have changed since Kilroy. They are incoherent and contradict themselves all the time, but they will follow their supporters and their supporters are not in any way ‘liberal’.

  8. John p Reid says:

    Tom having seen the way striking miners treated those not on strike, I feel I’m in a minority to say the way the police cited in the miners strike was right, but I don’t see how that comes into being socially liberal or not, Yes Thatcher had section 28′ but I don’t buy the idea that ukip are homophobic, and that because of that one issue mistake b the Tories, they were either, yes they’ve got extremists in them, but so have all parties,

    Alex remind me how many Labour or liberals (Sarah Teather) were against gay marriage, even people like Ben abradshaw and Julie Bindel said they was happy with civil partnerships as marriage is an oppressive thing anyway,

    Regarding extremism in parties “British jobs for British workers” or Margaret hodge on people should get council homes based n where their relatives live,

  9. Gerry says:

    John – regardless of how non-striking miners were treated, the police behaved consistently viciously and unlawfully towards the striking miners, acting as Thatcher’s stromtroopers – blatantly: so dont re-write history.

    As for UKIP, they are not homophobic as such but they are a hard-right party by any definition..they have been more successful than the BNP or NF in that they have ditched the overt racism, but what the UK definitely does NOT need is (yet) another Thatcherite party run by an old Etonian, city stockbroker..we already have the three main parties who are all still Thatcherite or Thatcher-lite!

  10. John p Reid says:

    Gerry I know of one welsh miners union ward, who gave the police officers their a trophy for helping police the strike, I know of miners who when they lost their jobs in 85 joined the police a year later,you call it re writing, when Kim Howells shredded evidence he sent the miners to the bridge and threw the brick off that killed David Wilkie, he re wrote history by hiding that fact,

    As for Farage, he didn’t actually go to Eton

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