Labour’s Ukip problem

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Labour’s Ukip problem


UKIP leader Nigel Farage. The party is appealing directly to alienated Labour voters © European Parliament

Much has been written about the United Kingdom Independence Party’s (Ukip’s) steady surge in popularity. The eurosceptic party now routinely outpolls the Lib Dems, looks set to gain seats (and voting share) in the local elections and will almost certainly come either first or second in 2014’s European elections.

The commentariat consensus has long been that Ukip benefits from the disillusionment of grass-roots Tories, unhappy and offended by Cameroonism. This is undoubtedly true to some extent. As Conservative Vice Chairman Michael Fabricant has pointed out, “the blue-collar vote doesn’t understand the Conservative party… [Ukip leader Nigel Farage] said in Eastleigh that they connected with the electorate and I don’t think we are connecting with the electorate at the moment.”

But to look at Ukip and see only deserting Tories is to fundamentally misunderstand, and underestimate, their appeal. The academics Matthew Goodwin and Robert Ford (specialists in niche political movements) have analysed voting-intention data and discovered a perhaps surprising trend. They found that Ukip’s “core loyalists” vote for the party in all elections and are, compared with Ukips “strategic voters,” “more working class, more economically insecure, and more likely to say they come from Labour-voting families.”

It’s clear that Ukip’s appeal stretches far beyond blue-rinse golfers still mourning Thatcher’s exit from Number 10. And their second most successful media performer, deputy leader Paul Nuttall, provided some insight as to why white working-class voters might look to the party when he was interviewed on the Today programme earlier in the week. Discussing immigration, Nuttall couched his critique of the British establishment’s open-doors prejudices in language that specifically targeted the voters Labour has lost. He talked of the impact of immigrants (whom he acknowledged are often hard-working, industrious folk) in terms of young men and women in the north west to whom the doors of economic progress often seem slammed shut. He discussed the downward pressure that eastern European migrants place on wages and the unfair competition of a labour market rigged to favour over-qualified new arrivals (with lower wage and living expectations) over our own poor. This wasn’t some blunt, borderline xenophobic attack. It was empathy and nostalgia.

This sense—that Ukip actually cares about the fate of the white working class and their kids—provides Ukip with its magnetic pull on voters that Labour has long considered its property. In so many ways, New Labour embraced the worst of Thatcherism alongside its merits—not least in its contempt for the socially immobile. Immigration is not only important because of people coming here, it’s important because politicians’ embrace of it tells us so much about what they think about humans. And it tells us that they are generally rather weird.

Too many Blairites seem genuinely baffled by people who can’t be barristers and don’t want to be either. At a Labour pressure group event this month, one ex-Blair adviser said that he believes everyone should have the opportunity to get out of small northern towns like his and make the big time in London. Fine. But plenty of us would much rather be afforded the chance to stay close to our families, our friends and our roots—to be able to forge a good life in the place we call home. It is politicians’ belief that people are rootless, ruthless individuals ready to up sticks that drives their comfort with mass immigration and their contempt for the static.

Ukip with its compassion for those of us who don’t want to forge a career in the professions or the “creative industries,” is a step ahead of a Labour party that still seems so bemused by the notion of old-fashioned labour as a source of pride and identity.

The reason Ukip is a genuine threat to the political establishment, rather than merely to the Conservative party, can be found in its accidental post-liberalism. This emerging school of political thought and practice—which seeks to challenge the assumptions and excesses of both social and economic liberalism—has found something of a testing ground in Ukip.  Bringing together the dissatisfied of Tunbridge Wells and the downtrodden of Merseyside is a remarkable feat, and it stems from Ukip’s empathy for those who have been left behind by the relentless march of globalisation and glib liberalism.

All three main parties have important lessons to learn from Ukip’s success. A failure to grasp the post-liberal nettle and to confront the profoundly unfair impact of cold-blooded meritocracy could well lead to their slow marginalisation. This doesn’t mean just imitating their policies (which often smack of illiberalism rather than post-liberalism) but it does mean adapting rhetoric and proposals to demonstrate some understanding for the people they are elected to serve. British elites have always been good at adapting to survive. For Labour, every bit as much as for the Tories, this will require throwing off the shackles of the post-1980s liberal consensus. I wonder if they can.


Putting the Tories right: James Macintyre on how Ukip became a serious threat to the Conservatives

Postmodern Tories: What does the Conservative party believe in? asks Roger Scruton

  1. May 1, 2013

    Andrew Elliott

    To bring together ‘the dissatisfied of Tunbridge Wells and the downtrodden of Merseyside’ behind one political banner is indeed a remarkable feat. No commentator has yet clearly identified that in addition to fear of immigration and metropolitan social liberalism – gleefully embraced by all three establishment parties – there is a very powerful additional uniting factor: islamophobia. The coded message behind UKIP’s generic immigration rhetoric – at present specifically focussed on EU immigration from Bulgaria and Romania – is the unstated fear of Islam. The fact that UKIP has black and Hindu members and candidates, but not one Muslim, speaks volumes.

    • May 1, 2013

      derek flaunty

      Another pseudo-intellectual reading something that isnt there, Ukip have no fear or dislike of any creed or religion we merely state an undeniable fact, our country has finite resources, working people of all religions
      & creeds in this country are being expected to pay taxes to support people from all round the world who choose to come here & then watch as schools run out of places, homes dry up, our young people are priced out of the labour market, queues for Doctors, Dentists etc get longer with some people unable to find them at all, the green belt is built on to accomodate them, hospitals going broke as they try to treat more people on the same budget….its not rocket science…this is a small island, we cant continue to forever open our borders to all.

    • June 14, 2013


      That is simply not true. UKIP does have Muslim members, as well as members from other ethnic minorities in the UK.

      Amjad Bashir, entrepreneur and successful businessman of Pakistani origins and Chairman of the Zouk group of companies, is UKIP’s Small and Medium Enterprises spokesman.

  2. May 2, 2013

    Paul Stott

    “The fact that UKIP has black and Hindu members and candidates, but not one Muslim, speaks volumes.”

    I don’t know about UKIP nationally, but here in Northamptonshire there candidate for Wicksteed is Jehad Soliman, a Kettering man originally from the Palestinian territory of Gaza.

    I guess a UKIP member called Jehad is probably a little too much for the metropolitan elite to come to terms with……

  3. May 2, 2013

    Max Wind-Cowie

    Thanks for the comments. Andrew, I think there’s a pretty obvious contradiction in your comment. You say that ‘The coded message behind UKIP’s generic immigration rhetoric’ is essentially Islamophobia yet acknowledge that the focus of UKIP’s campaigning on immigration has been Bulgarian and Romanian accession migrants. How do these statements stack up alongside one another? Last time I checked, Bulgaria and Romania are not known for their Islamic populations. However, I would agree that when we come to many of UKIP’s policies we are in illiberal rather than post-liberal territory. Worse, perhaps, is the fact the economically much of UKIP’s instincts run contrary to the social conservativism they embrace. I think, though, that the post-liberal framing of their narrative has helped them tap into a growing dissatisfaction with metro-liberal politics in the UK.

  4. May 2, 2013

    Iain Hill

    Someone would need to explain to the remnants of New Labour what roots are? How did such a worthless gang seize control of a major political party?

  5. May 2, 2013

    Ian Young

    The point about unfair competition in the labour market, which has caused a downward spiral on wages in sectors with a deregulated labour markets like construction, is a valid one .

    But the last party you want to vote for is UKIP which, despite Paul Nuttall’s opportunistic comments, believe British workers have far too many rights as it is.
    If Farage’s new best mate Frits Bolkenstein (the new Margaret Thatcher as he hails him) had been allowed to ram through his services directive the British working class (Mr Wind-Cowie does not explain why only white working class are effected) would have had an even bigger onslaught from low wage competition.

    Only a party of organsied labour can tackle this issue unless they are still too timid to be seen “in the pockets of the unions.”

  6. May 3, 2013

    Philip Davies

    I don’t remember UKIP doing well in Merseyside!

  7. May 3, 2013


    Wow – I doubt the UKIP PR department could have managed such a spin. Congratulations!

    Scapegoating foreigners rather than banks is pretty xenophobic to me. And the Enoch Powell school of Toryism always had the ability to disguise racism in common sense languages – eg ‘We’ve nothing against the p*kis per se but they’re taking British jobs.’

    Didn’t the Nazis do exactly this – unite rural numpties and alienated, impoverished city dwellers?

    So nothing that new. As for Blarities – well they just don’t care either way.

    We know what’s causing unemployment – the recession, the banking crisis. The parties are full of rich people who don’t want to upset the finance sector so they’re all happy to let foreigners take the heat.

    Sad times.

  8. May 4, 2013


    Coming from Merseyside, I don’t think UKIP have any presence here especially amongst
    working class people. Those who do vote vote Labour like Donkeys, so they will be dumped on with another round of neoliberal austerity nonsense from Milliband, Byrne etc

  9. May 4, 2013

    Tom Holmesdale

    Max, you appear almost as insular as UKIP

    ” Bulgaria and Romania are not known for their Islamic populations”.

    Actually, Bulgaria has large ethnic Turkish minority (around 10%) who are notionally Muslim. They are baited by the Bulgarian far right for this reason. An ex member of the main Bulgarian far right party Ataka chairs the Euro Parlianent group that UKIP is in…

    Basically, I agree that fear of supposed mass migration from Bulgaria and Romania is just unfocused xenophobia, which could turn in any direction.

  10. May 5, 2013


    A big story in Canada this week was the abuse of our temporary worker program to displace Canadians with lower paid foreigners in Canada:!/article/517edbfa7b1eac87340023bc-conservatives-crack-down-on-abuses-of-foreign-worker-program

    The Conservative government was caught on the hop by the public backlash over this story when it was alleged that IT jobs in a bank were being replaced by foreign workers. It was also alleged that kickbacks were even demanded of Canadians who wanted to keep their jobs. At the lower end, it seems that wages for Canadians in the fast food industry are being depressed by foreign workers in the program. Pending legislation is being hurriedly revised.

    IMO the attitude to immigration is determined by class rather than party loyalty. Blue and white collar workers are far more concerned by outsourcing and immigration than the elite
    because they see their way of life being threatened – more crisis than opportunity.

  11. May 5, 2013

    Mary Selman

    I think that this is also why UKIP are making the BNP redundant. The BNP gained support in Burnley and Padiham by appealing to white working class concerns – yet Burnley is traditionally a Labour heartland. New Labour, as you say, absolutely were not listening to them.

  12. May 5, 2013


    In my maybe mistaken opinion UKIP’s success in the local government elections stems from the likeability of Nigel Farage – the geezer you could enjoy a lively debate with down the pub! His venture to Bulgaria showed him being open to learning from experience, friendly to everyone he met, and revising his fears based on new information. The parliamentary select committee I viewed soon afterwards, was less sanguine in its questioning of diplomats from Romania and Bulgaria, with Keith Vaz, Chair, shamefully weighing up how to change legislation to deny their citizens access to the same level playing field open to all other members of Europe.
    Likeability and clear policies are necessary qualities that appeal to voters, more so perhaps than clarity of diction and likeable policies. The Labour Party needs to step up to the mark on both counts.
    We have stopped holding our breath waiting.

  13. June 13, 2013


    oo many Blairites seem genuinely baffled by people who can’t be barristers and don’t want to be either. At a Labour pressure group event this month, one ex-Blair adviser said that he believes everyone should have the opportunity to get out of small northern towns like his and make the big time in London. Fine. But plenty of us would much rather be afforded the chance to stay close to our families, our friends and our roots—to be able to forge a good life in the place we call home. It is politicians’ belief that people are rootless, ruthless individuals ready to up sticks that drives their comfort with mass immigration and their contempt for the static.
    How very true and reflected by the constant expectation of SE revenues from properties across the country.

  14. January 18, 2014


    I live in Lancashire, not that far from Burnley. The good people of Burnley had the common sense to throw out the sitting New Labour MP, Kitty ‘Artex’ Usher, in 2010 with a massive 26% swing to the Lib Dems. Usher was the poster girl for New Labour with all the right attributes which are, A Southerner, Metropolitan, Middle Class and Mediocre. I believe she was selected from a women’s only shortlist as was that other example of New Labour, Luciana Berger in Liverpool. Usher was partly rejected partly because she was embroiled in the expenses scandal with her claims for ‘artex as dilapidations’ which left most of the good citizens of Burnley asking, ‘What’s wrong with dilapidations love?’

    When Jeanette Winterson, the author of Oranges are not the Only Fruit, who hails from Padiham, near Burnley, visited the town after Usher was voted out, she was told by the locals, who are largely white working class, ‘Labour? That’s the posh people’s party!’

    As a Northerner I’m getting fed up of New Labour parachuting in Metropolitan Southerners into safe seats in The North: Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, The Millibands, Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper, Kitty Usher and now Luciana Berger. Metropolitan Middle Class Mediocrities, one and all.

    Luciana Berger is the latest in a long line of this trend. I find it beyond belief that a city such as Liverpool, with a such and politically engaged and active citizenship, has to have a privately educated posh girl from The South as its choice of Labour candidate. I consider this to an insult to the good people of Liverpool.

    It is this disconnect between the New Labour elite and its voters and their sense of rootlessness that some traditional Labour voters, such as myself, have given up on Labour. UKIP is a reaction to the sense of rootlessness that characterises the Liberal-Left Metropolitan Middle Classes, especially within the M25.

    For the record, I haven’t voted Labour in a General Election since 1992 and I don’t intend to ever again.

    It is no surprise to me that UKIP has become a party of protest and remember, The North returned two BNP Euro MPs and Oldham and Burnley returned BNP Councillors. For too long, Labour has taken its core vote in The North for granted and UKIP can capitalise on this. Many traditional Labour voters might have baulked at voting BNP, but UKIP with Nigel Farage is a different prospect. Farage is refreshing in many ways because he when compared to the Stepford Wives and other dreary characterless clones that New Labour inflicts onto local constituencies.

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