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Labour needs to confront not appease the UKIP agenda

UKIP+RosetteIn the wake of UKIP’s electoral advance, both at this year’s General Election and last year’s European Parliament election, the Labour Party has come under growing pressure, from inside and outside its own ranks, to adapt to UKIP’s anti-immigrant and English nationalist agenda.

Backed by the right-wing media, the Blue Labour current within the party in particular has stepped up its agitation for further concessions to the framework set by UKIP. This is direction in which John Healy and others are pushing the discussion.

Labour’s stance has already significantly shifted during the last parliament. Ed Miliband’s leadership made a big issue of  ‘apologising’ for “failing to adequately control” previous immigration. Then the 2015 election became the first where Labour featured the tightening of immigration controls as one of its top five pledges — with pledge cards and campaign mugs to underline the commitment. In fact in this election Labour was the only mainstream party that placed immigration as one of its key issues. Of course on the far-right it was UKIP’s main campaign focus.

During the election campaign, when the Tory media whipped up an English nationalist fear of a Labour government backed by SNP votes, Labour just adopted the framework instead of rebutting it. It made clear it also considered working with the SNP to be unacceptable, validating the Tory campaign.

Since the election there has been a push for Labour to concede further to elements of English nationalism.

All of this is just a self-defeating response to the advances on the far-right. The cutting edge of UKIP’s campaign is its reactionary, scape-goating, little Englander framework. Labour should play no part in promoting it. Not least because you never defeat your political opponents by conceding their arguments.

The way to stop voters being drawn towards UKIP is to convince people that UKIP is wrong, not to tell them it is right. Voters need to be convinced of the real facts and UKIP’s racist myths exposed for what they are. Migrants are not responsible for declining living standards, it is employers that are cutting wages, backed up by the Tories’ austerity policies. Labour needs to determinedly and unwaveringly explain these facts and push back against the reactionary agenda on immigration set by UKIP and echoed by the Tories.

Introducing the anti-immigration focus into Labour’s general election campaign was a shift that only damaged support for the party. Labour should be building an electoral alliance that draws in liberal minded and ethnic minority voters – not repelling them.

Tory strategists, on the other hand, for this election decided not to focus on immigration. They deliberately suspended their normal racist propaganda for the duration of the campaign, precisely because it would benefit UKIP.

It is evident from the election’s outcome that Labour’s campaign strategy was an abject failure. But the right-wing media claim that was because Labour was too ‘left’ with some even arguing it was too ‘soft’ on immigration. Both of these assertions turn reality on its head, as can be seen from the main trends in the election.

The shifts from 2010 to 2015

Labour took a 30.4 per cent share of the vote; compared to the 2010 election this is an increase of 1.5 per cent and it secured an additional 740,000 votes.

UKIP took a 12.6 per cent share; which is a 9.5 per cent increase and it secured an additional 2,960,000 votes.

The left of centre parties, that attacked those focussing on immigration controls and challenged UKIP’s racism, advanced more than Labour at the election. The SNP and Greens both made larger electoral gains. The SNP increased its vote share by 3.1 per cent and the Greens by 2.8 per cent, compared with Labour’s 1.5 per cent rise.

There is no truth in the, regularly repeated, claim that UKIP drew as much support away from Labour as it did from the Tories.

To delve into where parties drew their support from it is necessary to look at the opinion polls. Lord Ashcroft’s poll of 12,000 plus voters interviewed on 7 May is the most recent large publicly available survey that measured the switching of voters from one party in 2010 to another in 2015. As with earlier polling evidence it confirms that UKIP gained its votes mainly from former Tory and Lib Dem supporters, plus some from Labour. It found the following:

  • The greatest numbers of desertions to UKIP were from the Coalition Parties – 5.2 per cent of all those who voted in the 7 May election were 2010 Conservatives defecting to UKIP and 2.2 per cent were 2010 Liberal Democrats to UKIP. Only 1.7 per cent of those polled were 2010 Labour who switched to vote UKIP in 2015.
  • Labour held on to the vast majority of its 2010 vote. Plus it gained significant 2010 Liberal Democrat support. As many 2010 Liberal Democrat supporters voted Labour in 2015 as voted Liberal Democrat – 6.4 per cent of all voters in both cases.
  • 2.0 per cent of voters were 2010 Labour voters who switched allegiance to Labour’s left in 2015, voting for the SNP, Greens or Plaid Cymru. This is greater than the Labour defections to UKIP.

(The above figures are taken from Table 2 pg 5 and exclude those who cannot remember how they voted or refused to say)

In conclusion, the polling evidence is that Labour lost more to its left than it did to UKIP and the election results indicate that parties to the left that rebutted an immigration controls agenda advanced more than Labour, which adopted it.

On moral grounds, there ought to be a robust challenge to UKIP’s racism, irrespective of electoral considerations. But Labour also stands to gain. A shift rightwards by Labour on race and English nationalism can only drive away support, both to its left and right.

Calls from the right-wing media should be ignored. They scapegoat minorities to distract attention from those responsible for austerity. They oppose Labour and are sirens seeking to lure it towards further electoral defeats.

Regardless of which parties UKIP attracts its support from, Labour needs to confront UKIP’s racism, but this is also the way to drive back UKIP and for Labour to advance.


  1. John P Reid says:

    Labour didn’t hold the majority of its 2010 vote, we lost at least 1.5m of it, to with stories or Ukip, maybe more,and yes we did get back ex libDem votes, all those Billybragg types at the guardian who voted libDem last time,to see their party in coalition with the Tories,
    So saying that labour never lost votes to Ukip is daft, we did and the libdem vote only stabilized it,

    For a start you’re not questioning why working class socialist labour voters went Ukip in the first place,it wasn’t some guardian reading, snobbery that the working class are think, therefore are bigoted,so they must vote UKIP as they’re nasty right wingers who dint like immigration, the decrease in wages among blue collar workers,due to immigration,is by the bosses seeking immigration to pay lower wages to make themselves more profits,
    Appeasing implies going along with something through fear of something worse, to agree with controlling immigration, because ex labour voters are going UKIP isn’t appeasing it, why would us being afraid of losing is our votes to .UKIP, and trying to get them back,by admitting we were wrong in immigration, be giving into fear
    Surely as a socialist party we would want working class workers to get a decent wage ,from ,bosses, not be under cut by the employers.
    Surely staying in the EU was the main issue for Ukip voters and their right wing!, campaign a the election,also many a left winger wants out the EU

    The Tory press really had very little influence,Ed said he wouldn’t do deals with SNP, and there wasn’t a far factor, people already made up their mind to vote Tory before that,

    1. Billericaydickie says:

      As usual John P Reid you are correct, mostly, but I wish you would marshal your arguments better and use paragraphs.

      This article could have been written by Polly Toynbee or any of the other Guardianistas who are extemely peeved at the moment because so many former Labour voters didn’t do as they were told and instead exercised their democratic right to vote for the party they wished to.

      It may well be that it was a sort of Poujadist protest vote that will quickly disappear although I doubt it. Four million votes are a lot and this from almost nowhere with a massive campaign of vilification and physical attacks against UKIP.

      This article was written for the sake of writing it. How should Labour confront and not appease the UKIP arguments? They could argue for open borders as some of their more lunatic elements do. What about greater integration into the EU? Increased benefits for illegal immigrants? Oh, sorry, there wouldn’t be as everyone would be legal as we had opened the borders.

      This article is the same kind of whinge we heard from elements of the left around Livingstone and the Socialist Rapists Party front Unite Against Fascism when Ann Cryer, then an MP, began to talk about men of Pakistani origin grooming and abusing girls. It was pandering to racism and was Islamophobic they cried. Unfortunately for the girls it was all true and they were liars.

  2. David Pavett says:

    Barry Gray seems to think that when attacking the right we are free to say whatever we like so long as it is negative and that ensuring that our accusations are true is a secondary matter.

    For example, he says that John Healy want to push Labour in the direction of UKIP’s anti-immigration policy, a policy that he is at pains to tell us represents “the far right” and is racist. He gives a reference to an article be Healy. When we turn to that article all we find on immigration is the claim that Labour needs

    … an immigration policy that stops the exploitative use of migrant labour; and active trade unions to protect the pay and conditions of workers.

    This is a rather long way from the claims made. In fact it would require an article at least as long to counter all the false and misleading claims of this sort.

    The clue to Barry Grant’s approach is in his assertion that

    you never defeat your political opponents by conceding their arguments.

    This is a dictum so dumb that it can put your opponent in charge of what you can and can’t say. The skill of a successful right-wing politician is to bolster fears with partial truths. The most ineffective response is to deny any truth in what he or she says rather than taking those partial truths and fitting them into a broader context and providing a different analysis. When people on the left show themselves unable to do that they reinforce right-wing arguments.

    It is this approach to political debate that repels many who might otherwise be drawn into left-wing politics. It also blocks unity on the left by preventing rational debate about differences.

    Like so many on the left Barry G attacks what he takes right-wing immigration policies to be and leaves it that. He criticises Labour for accepting that there are any problems. We have to conclude that he believes that Labour should have no immigration policy and that all immigration at all times and for whatever purpose is a good thing. How intelligent is that?

    1. David Ellis says:

      David I have to say that is a cracking comment. It sums up the method of the sects perfectly. It is how they end up on the side of Putin and Assad and voting for TTIP and the neo-liberal EU. They have no analysis except that given to them by the right which they simply diametrically oppose which leaves the right making all the running.

  3. Barry Gray says:

    John P Reid: ‘Labour didn’t hold the majority of its 2010 vote…’

    You are mistaken.
    8,606,517 voted Labour in 2010 and 9,347,324 voted Labour in 2015.
    Ashcroft’s poll (sample size 14,000) of voters on 7 May recorded 73% of 2010 Labour voters as voting Labour in 2015.
    Similarly Survation (with a smaller sample) recorded 76% of 2010 Labour voters as voting Labour in 2015.
    It is unlikely these, and other polls, are out by a margin of over 25%.
    Survation’s polling is here:


    Anyone reading or commenting on this issue, who wishes to see a great example of how to confront UKIP’s arguments, watch LBC host James O’Brien’s May 2014 interview with Nigel Farage.
    O’Brien methodically takes apart UKIP’s comments on migrants and race.
    It can be watched here: .

    1. John P Reid says:

      You must have misunderstood what I put, labour didn’t keep the same sort of voters in 2015 as 2010′ see some constituencies that had a huge libDem collapse, like Kent Sussex
      But in south West England, labours vote went to Ukip, it wasn’t the amount of votes it was we got different voters,voting for us in 2015,

  4. Barry Gray says:

    Correction to my earlier comment.
    Ashcroft’s poll sample size was 12,253 not 14,000.
    But still a large sample.

  5. Verity says:

    I would suggest that avoiding adjustment to the UKIP agenda would be best served if Labour’s liberals actually formulated a policy that responsibly addressed random, laissez-faire and corporatist inspired migration issues both from the EU and internationally. Such a move would remove the, ‘blame the immigrant’ charge and so would avoid the ‘adjusting to UKIP’ label. Whilst it is true that you do not defeat an opponent’s policy by ‘scape-goating’ neither do you do by the adopting a market solution or leaving a vacuum hoping all will be well. Portraying ourselves as the nice guys and the others as the ‘nasties’ will also win over nobody – the effect is just to reinforce us liberals and make us feel better. But it offers no political solutions and wins no-one with a different persuasion maybe the demoralised working class are really worth the effort. We may be inclined to call the 4m kipper voters small-minded ‘little Englanders’, but it does nothing politically to responsibly address genuine issues. This contributes nothing to debate, even less to presenting an alternative programme. For instance where and how much will we invest to assist those schools will high multilingual, social (and emotional-adjustment) problems? How much support will we provide or fund areas with high GP demand? How much and how will we be prepared to fund the working tax-credit subsidies for low pay of migrants? Where and how many council houses will be built to undermine the rent exploitation of the vulnerable entrants (also possibly state subsidised)? In any case why are we discriminating in favour of the Bucharest slum (largely white) escapee and against those from the backstreets of Nairobe or Mumbai. Are in danger of replacing the ‘Little Englander’ with ‘Little Eurofadistas’?

    Th analysis offered is liberal rather than socialist; largely emotional and negative. It wins no-one and alienates many seriously minded working class people. Most of all is highly irresponsible, accepting no responsibility for alternative policy solutions.

  6. Mellie Agon says:

    This is a very good article. Labour has lost nearly 5 million voters since 1997 because of the Blairites’ remorseless move to the right. Where voters had the opportunity to vote against austerity, i.e. in Scotland where the SNP took a position to the left of Labour, they did so in droves and wiped Labour out.

    Most of the new UKIP votes came from the Tories and Lib Dems. Labour needs to shift to the left to reclaim those lost 5 million voters who stay at home because they find right-wing Labour repugnant. It does not need to court UKIP voters. And to do that would require concessions to racist arguments, because racism is what UKIP is built upon. That’s what Mr Gray is pointing out.

    The “immigration controls” mugs were racist and a disgrace. For Labour to be the only major party that campaigned against immigrants was a disgrace. For Labour to campaign for an austerity programme that massively attacks the living standards of working class people is a disgrace. That is not what Labour was created for. For people to call for Labour to become even more right-wing is political suicide. Why vote for a red Tory when you can vote for the real thing?

    1. John P Reid says:

      Nellie Agon, 3.5 million of those voters died, between 97-2010 and many stayed at home, labour also increased its vote by 5.2m votes between 1987-1997 by swinging to th left, yes a million or so ex Labour voted LibDem, after 2001 because the libdems stood on manifestos to the left of labour in that time, but when the libdems went into coalition with the Torieshardly any of those ex libdems went back to labour

      Regarding labour losing votes ,many who went Ukip, didn’t go there because labour had swung to the right. Less than half the Ukip vote came from the Tories if it did, then, the Tories getting more votes than last time ,couldn’t have got all their increased votes ex libdems

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