Tuesday, 19 March 2013

UKIP and Labour

Trailing his article in this month's Total Politics, Mark Ferguson asks if Labour should be worried about UKIP? On first glance, no. C4's analysis of the Eastleigh by-election shows just seven per cent of UKIP voters previously supported Labour. This is broadly supported by YouGov's recent research. UKIP have an order of magnitude greater pull with Tories than Labour voters. Indeed they have more of an attractor among former LibDem voters too, probably because the yellow party has left the 'none of the above' situation vacant. So should we sit back and grab the popcorn as they duke it out? Definitely not.

Mark makes the crucial argument. The danger from UKIP is not electoral, it's political. Three quick points:

1. Remember the 00s when the BNP made dangerous inroads into what were previously regarded as core Labour areas? The conditions they fed off - inadequate housing, poor job prospects, unemployment, insecurity - none of these have gone away. The BNP itself is a busted flush, for the time being, but the despair and the poverty that sustained them has redoubled under the LibDem-supported Tory government. Switching from one band of xenophobes to another doesn't take much, especially when UKIP has proven far more adept playing the anti-politics populist card. In Stoke-on-Trent, for example, UKIP have tried taking a ride on the bandwagon of the local protest movement. In other places where Labour-run councils are having to make unpalatable decisions, especially where the BNP have a previous track record, posing as the champion of working Britons while making the usual hysterical noises about immigration, the EU and so on can, and will (over the long term) give Labour a headache.

2. UKIP owes its prominence to the disproportionate media coverage it attracts, but that does not make it any less real. UKIP is part of a hard right tendency to completely unravel what remains of the post-war consensus. As UKIP benefits from unchallenging media coverage so all of British political discourse is pushed to the right. Hardly constitutive of the ideal grounds for any kind of left and socialist politics.

3. Labour cannot out-UKIP UKIP, and shouldn't even try. Doorstep patter in traditional Labour areas should focus on their similarities to the Tories. After all, few people are aware our populists favour very unpopular policies like cutting taxes on the wealthy (bringing down the top rate of tax to a flat tax of 31%, and abolishing employers' National Insurance contributions). The UKIP manifesto is full of hostages to fortune - you do not need to be a stat-quoting wonk to select a few howlers. But crucially the way for Labour to properly crush UKIP is to commit itself to a programme that offers security and hope. If UKIP particularly and populist anti-politics generally rests on insecurity, Labour - whether through the One Nation prism or not - has to be bold and say what needs to be done to restore security and stability to people's lives. If we don't, UKIP will, and that's a sure fire way to store up future tragedy for us all.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

"UKIP is part of a hard right tendency to completely unravel what remains of the post-war consensus."

I'm not sure if the right word is "projection" or "delusional". You're dead right that the remains of the post-war SETTLEMENT are on the way out, but the post-war consensus has been dead since about 1969, and your side killed it. The 1950s was a dreadful time, remember? Rejecting Major Attlee's Britain was what the Cultural Revolution was all about.

The post-68 Left social agenda has almost completely triumphed in the UK - witness Cameron joining Hope Not Hate and campaigning for gay marriage.

At the same time the Left economic agenda has been so utterly defeated that terms and conditions for the average worker are being driven down remorselessly - even as total remuneration for the top few percent accelerates into the distance.

Haven't any of you educated soi-disant lefties wondered why this might be? So much success in one sphere, so little in another?

Why, it's almost as if there's an inverse relationship between the two!

It's not UKIP supporters who appear every other day on the BBC or in the Telegraph, arguing that the UK is desperately short of skilled workers and that we need to import more.

Laban

Phil said...

Settlement ... consensus ... you would have thought the acres of words I've poured out on economics, neoliberalism and austerity might suggest the sense it's being used in.

But apart from your misty-eyed view of the golden olden days of the social monarchy, Laban, you are right about the culture/economics observation. But don't pretend to be original - the left have led the way in analysing the roots of the new left, which did not have as profound an impact in Britain as you might think; the breakdown of class structures, the effects of welfare dependency and so on.

Despite having little time for your cranky view of cultural politics, you should agree with the point I'm trying to push. Undermining populism, fear, insecurity and ignorance and producing the coherent, solidaristic communities you nostalgically hunger for rests on security at work. It makes economic sense, and provides a foundation for further, progressive social change so, to borrow a phrase, we can bring about a permanent and irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families.

Loz said...

Laban espouses the usual paranoid "cultural Marxism" fare without giving a thought to the possibility that the reason Cameron has joined Hope Not Hate and supported gay marriage is because the vast majority of people are, heaven forbid, in favour of social equality.

Phil is spot on about the effect of UKIP on the general discourse. The myopic anti-Tory default setting of many in the Labour Party seems to mean that the shift of Tory votes to UKIP is a 'good thing' because it leeches votes from the Tories.

Not many take the view that it is a 'bad thing' because it means the whole UK discourse moves to the right, leading Miliband and Labour MPs to abstain on the IDS workfare disgrace today because they don't want to be "weak" on "scroungers".

The fact is the UKIP effect is a cancer. We think it's good because right now it's eating up our enemies. But it will then spread to affect us unless it is properly dealt with.

Anonymous said...

"we can bring about a permanent and irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families"

The balance was actually pretty reasonable in, say, 1964. Certainly compared with the situation now.

Odd, isn't it, that the Cultural Revolution's not brought forth a New Jerusalem?

"Heh heh heh ... you get gay marriage, and we get a "flexible labour market" .. heh heh heh .."



Loz - "the possibility that the reason Cameron has joined Hope Not Hate and supported gay marriage is because the vast majority of people are, heaven forbid, in favour of social equality."

Marx - "The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class"

Laban

Phil said...

And there I was thinking the defeat of the labour movement in the 1980s had something to do with the neoliberal counterrevolution that has run rampant ever since. But no, if you listen to Laban, it's 'the gays'.