The party must reconnect with the concerns of its traditional voters before it's too lateby Paul Routledge / October 31, 2014 / Leave a comment
It was the vote that did not quite dare to speak its name—but not any more. Voting Ukip has become a badge of defiance, non-conformity—pride, even—in the pubs of Yorkshire, particularly the post-industrial south and west, Labour’s traditional heartland. I suspect that much the same is true for northern England as a whole. You might call it the Wetherspoon Tendency.
“There’s no shame in voting Ukip,” a building worker told me. “We want Ukip. He’ll sort all this immigration out. The Tories haven’t tackled it, nor Labour. And the unions are getting rubbished because immigrants don’t join unions.” It’s very often just “he,” meaning Nigel Farage. There is a strong sense of identification with “the man who speaks our language.”
That’s the anecdotal evidence, but for those willing to read it, the writing was on the wall long before the tremor that shook Heywood and Middleton in last month’s by-election, where Ed Miliband almost lost a safe Westminster seat to his beer-swilling rival.
In the European Parliament elections this year, Ukip took three of the six regional seats. That was predictable. Less expected was the party’s stunning performance in town and city halls in the council elections. Farage racked up votes of a thousand or more in ward after ward, coming a close second to Labour in dozens. And some seats, they did win. Across the white rose county and northeast Lincolnshire, a total of 18. Media attention was focused on the “rotten borough” of Rotherham, where Ukip took seven seats from Labour and almost clinched a handful more, to become the official opposition in the borough council chamber.
However, the headlines for “steel town” (it was as much coal as iron) mask a disturbing, wider trend for Miliband’s core vote. In the old pit villages of the Don and Dearne valleys, around Doncaster, in Ed Balls’s constituency, in the decayed fishing constituency of Grimsby, and in the former textile and engineering town of Keighley, Ukip secured a political foothold eerily reminiscent of the Liberal Democrats in their aggressively expansionist days.
In Miliband’s Doncaster backyard, Farage’s “People’s Army” came second to Labour in 15 wards and won…