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The resistable rise of UKIP

Revolt on the RightRegular readers may recall that I raised the alarm when anti-Islam activist, Anne Marie Waters, was seeking the selection to be Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Brighton Pavilion. Sadly this led to Nick Cohen writing a rather ill judged article for the Spectator, where he stood up for Anne Marie:

[Andy Newman] has campaigned against Anne Marie Waters of One Law for All , which opposes the imposition of Sharia law in the UK. In other words, he has put himself on the wrong side of the struggle between religion and women’s rights.

I often disagree with Nick Cohen, but generally I think he is a writer with integrity, and I would certainly recommend the article he recently wrote about UKIP for the Guardian, where he observed that the rise of UKIP is a threat for the left, as well as the right. The recent news that Anne-Marie Waters has been selected as prospective UKIP parliamentary candidate for Basildon and Billericay, suggests that he made an error of judgement in defending her.

Anne Marie Waters, while seemingly having an unhealthy obsession against immigration and multi-culturalism, in other areas is broadly aligned with more traditionally centre-left politics, so her selection for UKIP is interesting, and challenges some of the perceptions of UKIP as being just wayward Tories.

The recent work by Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin about UKIP, “Revolt on the Right” is essential reading. Based upon meticulous research, it details the history of the UKIP insurgency, and also provides convincing analysis of who votes for the party, what issues motivate them, and why.

There is no doubt that UKIP have enjoyed good fortune, for example the expenses scandal rescued them from a slough of inertia, and the entry of the Lib Dems into coalition government has meant that UKIP are able to position themselves as the anti-politics third party in by-elections.

Ford and Goodwin demolish the myth that UKIP voters are well heeled Conservatives, with a bee in their bonnet about Europe. That constituency of support does exist, and especially comes over to UKIP during European elections, as within the half of the population hostile or ill-disposed towards the EU, UKIP is a significant force. However, the more typical profile of a UKIP supporter is an older white man, poorly educated, working class, and disadvantaged both in the modern knowledge economy, and possibly disadvantaged compared to younger, cheaper migrant labour in manual jobs. While the evidence is non-conclusive, it points to UKIP taking votes equally from Conservatives and Labour, as well as some votes from the Lib Dems and BNP.

The pattern of UKIP voting is “Brussels Plus”. Among the roughly 50% of voters who have a positive view of the EU, then UKIP barely registers. However, among those with a negative view of the EU, UKIP only persuades people to vote for them if they further connect positively with the party over another campaigning issue, for example immigration.

Opposition to immigration is of course central to UKIP’s appeal, particularly expressed as a willingness to talk about a subject that they say others are ignoring, or that nowadays people are not allowed to talk about. Paradoxically this claim is often made by people who seem to have no inhibition about talking about immigration at every opportunity, a preoccupation shared with newspapers such as the Daily Mail and Daily Express.

Nevertheless, as both the Conservative and Labour Parties are broad electoral coalitions pitching for the centre ground, and BME votes themselves, hostility to immigration is perhaps underrepresented by mainstream politicians compared to the currency of such views in the general population. In the case of the Labour Party not only high levels of BME electoral support, but also principled opposition to racism from individual members and the affiliates also inhibits Labour from occupying anti-immigrant terrain.

History shows that two party political systems are vulnerable to breakdown when a major social issue is not expressed through them. The obvious examples being the breakdown of the Liberal/Tory grip of British politics as neither party was able to express support for organized labour, or the breakdown of the Whig/Democrat rivalry in America in the 1850s as both parties split over the issues of slavery, and Catholic immigration.

The prominence of immigration in British politics is a curious one. As the recent pamphlet by Class explains, migrants make up 11.3% of the UK population, compared to 13% of the US population, and 25% of the Australian. The majority of migration to London and the South East of England is also from UK citizens moving from other parts of the country. Moreover, much of the concern expressed about immigration is from people who regard themselves as being non-racist.

Once the element of explicitly racist anti-immigration sentiment is set to one side, then it is tempting to regard the other concerns as instrumental, where wider societal failures to provide housing, decent pay, employment rights and job prospects for the young are ascribed to immigration. It is true that in certain employment sectors, competition with migrant labour has forced wages down. The solution however is to prevent employers from exploiting people, partly through legislative requirement for a living wage, and partly through effective trade unionism. The challenge for the left and centre-left is to persuade hard to reach and cynical parts of the electorate that a Labour government can deliver for them.

The authors make an interesting comparison between UKIP and the SDP, the last party to seek to break the two party structure of Britain’s political system (for simplicity, let us put aside the question of Wales and Scotland). In 1983 the SDP gained 25.4% of the vote, compared to 27.6% for Labour, and 42.4% for the Conservatives; right up until election day the SDP had been at around 30% in the polls. Nevertheless, the SDP, and their Liberal party allies, won only 23 seats.

The problem for the SDP/Liberal alliance was their vote was more evenly distributed than Labour support, and thus they failed to win seats in a first past the post election. However, the 1983 election was also fought in a context where both the Conservatives and Labour were pitching their message towards their traditional core voters, and the lasting effect of the SDP’s influence was to strengthen the argument for all parties to pitch for the centre ground, which has reduced the distinctive position of the successor party, the Lib Dems. Furthermore, the electoral system has itself changed the nature of the Lib Dems, who have sought to build their support, chameleon like, by adapting their message depending whether they are challenging Conservative or Labour incumbents, and thus weakening any distinctive political position for the Lib Dems as a party.

The impact of both the Conservatives and Labour seeking to sway swing voters in marginal constituencies by the dark arts of spin and triangulation itself reflects the changing nature of Britain,, and indeed of European society more generally. Labour, as a political party, has always to a degree sought to appeal as a national political force transcending the sectionalism of any particular class, but nevertheless, at the high point of labourism through the 1940s to 1960s, the traditional working class was a large electoral constituency in its own right. However, since then the class structure of Britain has changed, so that in order to create an election winning coalition, Labour did need to realign itself to the changed electorate.

The danger however is that as the main parties seek to converge upon the centre ground, then this encourages a professionalisation of politics, with candidates, who seem to some voters, to merely be personality free, cardboard cut outs, only distinguishable by the colour of their rosettes. The disillusionment with the political class, brought to boiling point in 2009 by the MPs expenses scandal, is most keenly felt by those who feel left behind by the changes in British society over the last 30 years.

UKIP are a regressive force, tellingly much more popular with the old and poorly educated, and much less popular with the young and among graduates; UKIP also poll very poorly in BME communities. As was once quipped about the SDP, they are a party campaigning for a better yesterday.

However, they still pose a considerable threat, not just to the Conservatives but also to Labour, both in pulling public opinion in a less tolerant direction over immigration, but also in pushing the issue of withdrawal from the EU up the agenda, which paradoxically for an anti-politics party is an issue of much more interest to policy-wonks, than real voters, and just encourages the idea that politics is divorced from real life.

The best strategy for Labour is to stick to its guns in highlighting the cost of living crisis, and in offering policies in the interests of ordinary people. Paradoxically, the social profile of UKIP voters suggest that they are people who would mainly benefit from a Labour government, but they have lost faith in the ability of politicians to deliver. That is the challenge for us to address.

The post The resistable rise of UKIP first appeared at Socialist Unity


  1. Ric Euteneuer says:

    Canvassing in Stevenage last year for the County elections, for which I was a candidate, I did note at the time that the profile of UKIP supporters was – at least in Stevenage anyway – NOT well heeled Tories with a bee in their bonnet about the EU – far from it – mainly males in their 50s and 60s with a bee in their bonnet about immigration.

    The present electoral arrangements mean that few, if any MPs and Councillors will fall to UKIP, but as a consequence, they will act effectively as a ‘external faction’ to the Tories (and a lesser extent Labour). The present hysteria about halal food labelling dominating the redtops presently is solely down to UKIP, and it will continue unless effectively addressed.

    UKIP were 2nd or 3rd in a worrying number of divisions in Herts, and were 2nd to me with only about 100 votes less than I scored – less than a streetful.

  2. Matty says:

    Well, well. Going back to Andy’s original article is instructive as you can see the usual suspects getting it wrong as per usual – indeed I see that Howie has used his blog to blame Andy N for driving Anne-Marie out of Labour. How he drove her into UKIP is not explained though.

  3. Mike says:

    Meanwhile others are defecting, including UKIP’s youth activist Sanya-Jeet Thandi who was defending the party on Channel 4 News only last week According to Huffpo:

  4. Dave Roberts says:

    Former SWP member and Respect activist Newman’s contempt for the traditional Labour voter knows no bounds. It seems that the profile of a typical UKIP voter is an” older white man, poorly educated, working class and disadvantaged both in the modern knowledge economy, and possibly disadvantaged compared to younger, cheaper migrant worker in manual jobs”.

    It doesn’t get more arrogant and patronising tan tat and is it a wonder that sections of the working class are abandoning Labour.

  5. swatantra says:

    Surprised to learn that there is an ‘Independence from Europe’ Party an off shoot of UKIP left of UKIP who don’t believe in privatisation. They might even be socialists! just wanting out of Europe. and separting off the Regional Assemblies and Scottish Parliament. They might be similar to the English Democratic Party. And theres the EDL. Yes,its getting complicated out there. Almost as complicated as the innumerable factions on the Left from Trots to SWP to Commies etc.

  6. swatantra says:

    … hoping that Ubi Roi would be mentioned somewhere in the article.

  7. Dave Roberts says:

    Swatantra. I thought the SWP were Trots. Silly me all these years!

  8. Ric Euteneuer says:

    Well, swatantra, to the left of UKIP places the “An Independence from Europe Party” somewhat to the right of the Tories still, so I wouldn’t go getting too excited by that. They are still little Englanders – a quick glance at their policies reveals “To stop open border migration from the EU and to establish an immigration policy similar to that of Australia, based on national needs”

    I had a leaflet through my door from the No2EU party – a clump of the anti-EU ultraleft, so the space for an anti-EU left is already occupied (indeed there are mainstream members of the Party who are anti-EU).

    The portrait of a typical UKIP voter that Dave Roberts complains about is not anti-working class prejudice, but an evidence based study, from which the party needs to learn.

  9. John Reid says:

    Although, The Tories had the most right wing manifesto in 100 years in 1983 and Labour had the most left wing one, I wouldn’t call those things appealing to their core voters, most Tories were one nation Tories, didn’t like Thatchet, and the left of the Labour Party wasn’t its Coe vote, as For Anne Marie waters, Robert Kilroy silk and Peter Shores widow, both Ex labour went too ?Ukip, they weren’t the first,, there’s a lot more ex Tory voters who vote Ukip, the SDP took their votes from 50/50 of ex labour, ex Tory votes

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