Nigel Farage failed to win his seat, but his party has made significant gainsby Matthew Goodwin / May 8, 2015 / Leave a comment
One of the most intriguing developments in the general election was the emergence of Ukip in many traditionally Labour-held seats. While much of the attention was inevitably focused on South Thanet–where Nigel Farage failed in his quest to enter Westminster—less noticed were Ukip’s results outside of Conservative-held marginal seats. In the north west Ukip polled 32 per cent in Heywood and Middleton. In south Yorkshire it polled 30 per cent in Rotherham. In the North East it won 28 per cent in Hartlepool and over 18 per cent in Redcar and Sunderland. In London it polled 30 per cent in Dagenham and Rainham, the seat held by Jon Cruddas who has done more than most in his party to recognise and address identity-related anxieties among Britain’s left behind, blue-collar workers.
Ukip also emerged more forcefully in Wales where you can find the same kinds of communities that are struggling, with older, white and poorly-educated populations. In Islwyn, Farage and his party attracted 20 per cent. In Caerphilly they won 19 per cent. In Merthyr Tydfil, the self-anointed “People’s Army” won 19 per cent while in the tribal Labour seat of Llanelli the Eurosceptic party seemingly came out of nowhere to poll 16 per cent. Such results have already thrown a shadow over elections to the Welsh Assembly next year. But they also underline yet another challenge for Labour. Six of Ukip’s ten strongest results at the general election came in Labour-held seats.
Some on the left expressed shock at Ukip’s ability to enter double-digit support in its traditional Labour bastions. This is naïve. The writing has long been on the wall. Last year, at the European Parliament elections, the insurgent Ukip finished well ahead of Labour across a large swathe of its formerly industrial and declining territory. Farage’s band of amateurs then went on to almost seize the northern Labour stronghold of Heywood and Middleton. Locally, they have also been polling respectable results in towns like Rotherham and along England’s East Coast, where Labour used to be stronger. And as Rob Ford and myself pointed out in our book last year, Revolt on the Right, none of this should be a surprise when we consider the wider trend in Europe. From Paris to Berlin, social democrats have long been engaged in a debate about the so-called “cultural insecurity” that is pulling large numbers of working-class voters out of the left’s embrace and pushed them toward the welfare chauvinist, economically protectionist and xenophobic appeals of the radical right. Britain used to be the exception but we are no longer immune.