How should Labour react to UKIP? A few thoughts…

UKIP’s showing in the local elections needs to be taken seriously – and by all political parties. The biggest danger for Labour, it seems to me, is that they will notice (correctly, I suspect) that the main ‘losers’ through the rise of UKIP are the Tories, and assume as a consequence that things are basically ‘OK’ as a result, and that all that is needed is more of the same. That, to me, would be a big mistake. Labour needs to dig deeper, to be more thoughtful.

There are a number of reasons that people might have voted UKIP. It might be, as some suggest, simply a protest vote. It might, on the other hand, hint at real and worrying levels of racism and anti-immigrant feeling. It might be that the huge attention paid to Nigel Farage by the BBC et al. has just had a huge effect. It might be that people really are worried about Europe. All of these things need addressing.

The first is the most important. If this is a ‘protest vote’, Labour need to understand what people are protesting about. Why are they dissatisfied by the ‘usual’ parties? Labour should notice that they’re not offering any real alternative – that aping the coalition, accepting its austerity, its approach to welfare etc etc is not something that voters want or like. More of the same, just a tiny, tiny bit ‘nicer’ – or rather a tiny, tiny bit less hideously nasty – is not an alternative. Labour has got to show that it can offer something different – different from the current government, and different from the Labour governments of the recent past. ‘New’ Labour should be old news – and the likes of Liam Byrne, Stephen Twigg and so on should be taken swiftly and securely away from the front line.

The second – that racism and anti-immigrant feelings are on the rise is harder. It’s there, for sure – but the response could go two ways. The ‘appeasement’ approach that seems to be the current idea for the Labour party – saying ‘we hear your concerns and we’re going to be tough’ is both morally wrong and politically short-sighted. Racism and anti-immigration feeling is fuelled by fear and misinformation for the most part, egged on by a media that likes to peddle these myths. It’s easy to fall into the trap of going along with the agenda – but all it does is entrench the view, and make it easier for the likes of UKIP to succeed. Making racism ‘acceptable’ won’t help Labour – it will help Labour’s opponents, particularly in the long term. It will take bravery to challenge the false agenda head on, and it will probably be a level of bravery beyond the Labour party, sadly – but I still hope Labour will have the guts to go for it.

The third challenge – challenging the media love-in with Nigel Farage – is one that Labour must realise that they have to take face on. He gets too easy a ride – not just from the media, but from other politicians. Watching him in his all-too-regular appearances on Question Time it seems as though the other panellists treat him with kid gloves. They need to come out fighting – particularly Labour representatives. I suspect the other parties will be feeling the same – they really need to.

The fourth challenge – the challenge of Europe – is another matter entirely. It’s entirely possible that Cameron will make even more positive moves towards a referendum on membership of the EU – indeed, I’d say it’s likely. This time, if I was Ed Miliband, I’d call his bluff. Say yes to a referendum. Say it loud and clear. In fact, I’d make it part of the Labour Party’s manifesto tomorrow, if it was up to me – because this discussion has to be had, this battle must be fought, and it must be won. Hiding from the fight just isn’t enough.

That last point is true not just for Europe, but for the whole of the challenge of UKIP. Labour shouldn’t be hiding, shouldn’t be ignoring them, shouldn’t be accepting their agenda – they should be fighting them, and fighting them with strength and radicalism. Will they do it? There aren’t many signs of it so far, but I hope that behind the scenes people are at least thinking about the possibility.

6 thoughts on “How should Labour react to UKIP? A few thoughts…

  1. The problem, of course, is that a healthy UKIP is quite good for Labour, as it causes more harm to the Conservatives than it does for them. The last thing the Labour leadership wants is for all those UKIP voters to flock back to the Tories at the next election.

    The Farage factor is possibly more interesting.He has a lot in common with Boris Johnson – they both give the impression of being normal human beings rather than political insiders. And they both have personal approval ratings which are considerably higher than you would expect from a dispassionate look at their politics. So if there is a lesson to be learned there, for any of the mainstream parties, it’s that the public are put off by the seeming slickness and centralised control of modern politics.

    1. In the short term that may well be right – and I suspect the ‘tacticians’ within the Labour party are banking on it for 2015. In the long term, I’m pretty sure it’s a bad move – allowing the views that UKIP represents to be fostered even further is likely to damage Labour severely, don’t you think? And if the ‘right wing’ as a whole grows, and then decides that the Tories are the best shot for the General Election, Labour will have really shot itself in the foot.

      The other question I have is whether there are different groups of UKIP voters – some who are obvious Tory defectors, some who are ‘protest voters’. If Labour can get the latter, while leaving the former in a smaller UKIP, it could help.

  2. Farage and UKIP played in the Grillo platform of we are not insiders and look what the insiders have done, they harped on about career politicians and how Farage had actually worked in the real world and also their candidates. This didn’t just strike a nerve, it has a ring of truth.
    They are a populist party they say things people want to hear, on the left and right. As my builder friend told me about being in slovakia or czech republic on a job, he said over there they aren’t allowed to be idle unemployed they have to make themselves available every day for community service. Not sure if its true but its the kind of thing “hardworking people” like to hear.
    On another forum I noticed someone said stop criticising UKIP and go read their policies which I did. Some I agreed with, others I didn’t, but I could say the same of Labour.
    There policy on immigration (on the website it says presently undergoing a review) strikes a populist chord, restricting incomers, points system a la Gordon brown and making residency over a period a passport to state benefits etc.
    They also play to the quasi Thatcherite ideal that public services are not really run for the public but the Unions and those that work in them. That too strikes a chord with the public and for many their experience. This is because again my builder speaking ” you will remember me for the one thing I did wrong not any of the other things.
    I don’t quite understand their ideas about tax, but then I was never a great maths genius.
    My feeling why UKIP have been so popular and why they will remain so is that many ordinary people of all walks of life do not feel they can have a say or effect things, because the politicians are a separate breed, have screwed things up, appear to have no answers and are fast alienating swathes of the population. UKIP talk about the Eton and Oxbridge types and also the career types in politics, this is why its hard for Labour to come out fighting, because so many of them also fit into this bracket. (not Eton). They also do not know what to do, UKIP have an answer…Leave the EU. It may not make a difference but it sounds like they can do something. What have we got on offer, “Austerity Lite”…vacuous crap like this problem will be sorted by the many…it doesn’t sound like it mean anything.
    So UKIP have taken the stand of pointing out the emperor has no clothes, unfortunately there is not an answer to this, other than to go home and put some on. However like the other mainstream parties there appears to be nothing in the wardrobe.

  3. I think all your points are correct Paul. Going along with someone else’s agenda, especially when it is a racist or xenophobic agenda is never be the right choice. The whole purpose of politics should be to persuade and the real problem is that there are no great orators in politics today. If you asked me what I though either Milliband or Cameron truly believed about anything I would be hard pushed to say.
    Labour needs a strong vision that it and its supporters can believe in and persuade others to believe in and rally round.

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