View from the Right: Ukip’s surge is a threat to Labour

By Ben Rochelle September 26, 2014 12:14 pm

Ukip are in the Labour heartlands of Doncaster today for their annual conference. Several Labour defectors will speak, while fringe events will focus on taking seats from Mr Miliband.

Ukip leader Nigel Farage has repeatedly said that Ukip represents as much of a threat to Labour as it does to the Conservatives. And he has a point.

In their recent book Revolt on the Right, UK-based academics Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin identified the 10 most Ukip-friendly seats in the country, and eight are Labour. At the European elections in May, across 51 authorities in the north-west and north-east, Ukip finished ahead of Labour in 18 and as its main rival in 30.

On October 9, on the same day as the Clacton contest, a by-election will be held in Heywood and Middleton, Greater Manchester, following the death of Labour MP Jim Dobbin. It is unlikely that Labour will lose this seat but Mr Farage has already said his party is going well. Peter Cookson, a Heywood born Labour councillor in Manchester describes Ukip as “a real threat” as the party draws on blue collar voters who were once instinctively Labour.

That Ukip’s core voters are middle-class Tories driven by the single-issue of Europe is a huge myth. As Ford and Goodwin point out Ukip is the most working-class-dominated party since Michael Foot’s Labour in 1983. Lord Ashcroft has found that Blue-collar Ukip voters outnumber their white-collar counterparts by a large margin: 42 per cent of Ukip voters work in blue-collar jobs or do not work at all, while a smaller percentage of 30 per cent hold professional middle-class jobs. In Labour, historically the party for the workers, the middle-classes have a narrow 36-35 lead.

Ukip’s rise is commonly put down to a lack of trust in the political elite at Westminster. But there is something more fundamental at work. Many Ukip voters feel unable to connect with the way in which their communities and country is changing and are angered at the political classes that appear not to understand or care about their concerns. As Ford and Goodwin put it these voters “look out at a fundamentally different Britain: ethnically and culturally diverse; cosmopolitan; integrated in a transnational, European political network; dominated by a university-educated and more prosperous middle class that holds a radically different set of values, all of which is embraced and celebrated by those who rule over them.” These voters feel that Cameron and Miliband are out of touch and unwilling to engage with their views and interests. Ukip’s deputy leader, Paul Nuttall, highlighted this sense of exclusion in a 2013 speech: “In the days of Clement Attlee, Labour MPs came from the mills, the mines and the factories. The Labour MPs today go to private school, to Oxbridge, [then] they get a job in an MP’s office.”

Mr Miliband used his conference address earlier this week to ridicule David Cameron’s response to Mr Farage. “He lies awake at night thinking about the United Kingdom Independence Party,” he said. “I say pandering to them is just one more reason why he is not fit to be the Prime Minister of this great country.”

But does this attitude reveal a lack of understanding or desire to make inroads into the hearts and minds of many of Labour’s traditional supporters?

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