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Austerity drove white working class to UKIP: why won’t Labour say they’ll end it

Austerity is failingIt’s true there’s rage at the political establishment for the current state of Britain, especially the deeply run-down economy, and that was the real reason for the UKIP so-called surge (though actually a significant fall-back from UKIP’s vote last year). Of course there was constant vilification of Europe and immigrants, but they are merely convenient scapegoats for the real cause of Britain’s current malaise which is four years of austerity and the bitterness, hurt and anger that this has provoked.

This is not to suggest that there are not real and serious problems about both Europe and immigration which certainly need to be addressed. But in normal times (i.e. not in the midst of the longest recession for a century) Europe has never been a key issue for more than 3% of the electorate, and even immigration (which is a much more complex and difficult issue) only rises up the political agenda at times of economic crisis when wages are falling and jobs are hard to get. Neither is the real root cause of the deep disaffection sweeping the country: austerity and endless cuts are the real culprits.

Against that background it is staggering that the real causes of public frustration and anger received such little attention in these elections. The people who deserted to UKIP in their droves were older white working class voters who are pig-sick of being told, by both parties, that whoever wins the next election there will be another 4-5 years of austerity and continuing depression in their standard of living. Growth is the manifestly obvious alternative which cries out to be implemented since 4 years of austerity have reduced the budget deficit by just £10bn (still leaving the black hole in the national accounts at £108bn), yet 2% growth would reduce it by £30bn in just 1 year. Of course the Tories will talk up their own so-called ‘recovery’, but it has no legs when wages, productivity, business investment and net exports still remain dramatically negative – i.e this current recovery is not sustainable.

So why isn’t Labour banging the drum loud and clear for sustainable growth and widespread job creation? That’s the message that the country as a whole, and Labour voters in particular, are crying out to hear. It would provide the central narrative knitting together the several threads that Ed Miliband has already laid down for dealing with the cost of living crisis, by setting out a credible and powerful economic framework by which all these individual initiatives can be funded and implemented. If that were done, the 2-3 million Labour votes that have been lost to UKIP or abstention – votes that could well prove critical in a tight general election – could undoubtedly be won back. So what is Labour waiting for?

8 Comments

  1. David Pavett says:

    I am sure that Michael Meacher is right that a Labour fight-back with a strong policy for recovery and ending austerity would recoup millions of votes. So the question he poses (“So why isn’t Labour banging the drum loud and clear for sustainable growth and widespread job creation?”) needs to be addressed. What is stopping them? I can find no other answer than that they cannot do it because they do not believe in it. They do not believe in it because their view of what is and is not economically possible is pretty much the same as that of the Coalition. So it is not just a policy development that is required but a whole different political mindset. What is the chance of that? What is the chance of Ed B saying “You know what, I’ve been reading around the issues and listening to critics of Labour’s austerity commitment and I have come to see the flaws in our policy.” Pigs will fly before that happens. That’s the problem.

    P.S. This is the second time that Michael Meacher has made an assertion about the decline in UKIP votes compared to 2013. Wouldn’t should some respect for other contributors to address the argument to the contrary made in these columns.

  2. ell whe says:

    What has driven the white working class, if we are to embrace such labels, to UKIP is the fact that the workers are now wise to the fact that Labour isn’t so much a party of conviction politicians, like it was in my grandfather’s day, who loved and want to protect the workers.

    No, they are realising that Labour and Marxism were always interesting academic pursuit for people of privileged backgrounds.

    No more lies. No more manipulation. Just plain truths.

  3. Dave Roberts says:

    It’s interesting how the white working class have emerged from the shadows. We were almost a term of abuse a year or so ago.

  4. Chris says:

    Isn’t it Tories who vote for UKIP?

    I live in a city with a substantial working class population and we didn’t elect a single UKIP councillor.

  5. PoundInYourPocket says:

    I’m not entirely convinced by this analysis that comes over as a little too trite.
    There are many reasons why we saw, in some areas, a UKIP surge. This surge was real, it’s no use saying that the “average” UKIP share was down on 2013, as UKIP target areas. Where they target they are effective and gain seats such as in my area. It’s too simple to just say that austerity measures cause hardship which leads to immigrant scapegoting which leads to UKIP support. Whilst that does account for some UKIP support those people would probably have voted BNP before. (UKIP do well in the same regions that BNP did well – it’s the same demographic). Where there is a greater move away from Labour towards UKIP I would put down to the ever widening gulf between the lives, emotions, appearance and manner of those on TV that represent Labour and the lives, emotions, appearance and manner of those that used to drink in the local club and vote Labour. Labour no longer looks or feels like “Labour” , it appears alien and untrustworthy. At this level it’s not about policy it’s about emotion. Labour has lost it’s link with many traditional Labour supporters.
    Wether the country is in austerity or not. A change of leader is not the issue. If Labour genuinely want the traditional vote back they would have to start working at ground level and rebuild trust. That’s a 10 year project and isn’t likely to happen as the Labour party are no lonnger after that demographic. They can go vote UKIP or BNP or independent. The Labour party has set its stall on the more affluent, professional lower middle class. The battleground is not to re-gain the “white-working-class”, it’s to gain more of the “lower-middle/middle class”. Sadly, as we know, that’s contrary to the entire history and founding principles of the Labour Party. Seems like the Party really is over.

    1. Robert says:

      New labour is not dead just taking a short break.

  6. swatantra says:

    Lets not pander to ‘white working class racists’; oh yes, they do exist; they’ve always been around; and they’ve just proved it by raising their ugly heads.

    1. Chris says:

      I don’t think UKIP voters are mostly racialists. Generally they’re just misanthropes, I think.

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