Why is it that UKIP has stormed to 160 seats in the rest of the country, but not in London? It’s because London is by far the most prosperous part of the country and members of the white working class are much more likely to be able to find a job at reasonable pay than elsewhere across Britain. Though they have certainly not been excluded from the bruising experience of austerity cuts over the last 5-6 years, the hurt and the pain has generally been much less keenly felt in London than elsewhere. That explains why UKIP failed to make inroads in London and Labour did notably well there.
It also explains why UKIP, having won a third of its votes from the Tories particularly in the south, was then able to build on this by depriving Labour of some of its expected gains in the north. The lesson of the local elections, which has been widely accepted, is that UKIP’s success derives from universal repudiation of the three main political parties, and of course there is truth in that. But the real lesson is that the white working class feel bitter, resentful and angry at what they perceive as being abandoned by Labour and thus disenfranchised.
There are two other views currently going the rounds in the Labour Party to explain yesterday’s results which are profoundly misguided and wrong.
One is that Labour did not do as well as it had hoped and expected because it had failed to hammer UKIP hard enough. This is a serious error of judgement when it was perfectly clear by the last fortnight of the campaign that attacking Farage head-on merely played into UKIP’s hands since Farage was popularly lionised precisely because he was the anti-establishment candidate who rejected traditional politics – quite apart from the fact that he was also the Teflon candidate beyond reach in terms of policies or ideology.
The second view which is also a serious mistake is the argument that the general election will depend on Labour’s capacity to win votes from the Tories in the south. These local elections should put paid to this nonsense for good. Labour did comparatively well in London and the south, but failed dramatically to sweep the north because of white working class disownment.
The general election will depend on how far Labour has learnt the lesson of these local elections that the 2-3 million white working class electors whom the party has lost to UKIP have to won back by systematic and plausible assurances that a Labour government will forego further austerity and me-tooism competition with the Tories over continuing cuts till 2020, and instead will use public investment to lay the foundations for sustainable economic growth and widespread job creation.
Ed Balls (and the Blairites) have made clear they believe that the priority is to show that Labour can take tough decisions. Nobody who has been on the doorstep can believe this fantasy. What they really want is a commitment from Labour that it will save them from endless cuts and austerity by the promotion of sustainable growth (which this ‘recovery’ certainly is not) and real job creation.