Sunday 25 May 2014

Lazy Thinking and the Election Results

Some points challenging the avalanche of lazy thinking tumbling off Mt Politics about the local election results.

Complacency, part one. UKIP did very well, they won 161 seats. It is very silly, as some do, to bang on about the party having zero MPs and not winning any councils. Outside of London, UKIP have put down and strengthened their roots in Tory and Labour-held constituencies alike. The project to replace the Tories, to muscle in on non-Labour working class voters continues apace.

Complacency, part two. In last year's County Council elections, UKIP polled 23%. This time round it was "just" 17%. That makes a drop of six points and, on the face of it, suggests NF's gas guzzler is stalling. This is not the case. Look again. 2013's were county elections. Those elections were better disposed to express the disgruntled wills of Tories and angry non-Labour voters than Thursday's mix of metropolitan, unitary and district councils. It's foolish and wrongheaded to take the difference on face value - it is not a like-for-like comparison.

Complacency, part three. Despite ample evidence of UKIP disproportionately drawing off Tory votes, commentator after pundit after churnalist repeat mantras that the reactionary right menace all three mainstream parties equally. "Hold on a moment Phil, aren't you being equally complacent by implying the opposite?" No. There are clear patterns to UKIP successes against Labour. In Rotherham, on my own doorstep in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Labour seats were lost from local authorities we control in the absence of credible, established oppositions. Take Newcastle. Up until two years ago it was run by a LibDem/Tory lash up. The lingering legacy of recent local incumbency plus generalised anti-government and anti-political grumblings, and the media's rocket beneath UKIP's backside prevented the received opposition from benefiting, and why Labour fell back. Likewise, had Stoke-on-Trent City Council been up the established, populist City Independents' group would have done well at Labour's expense while UKIP, the Tories, etc, were likely to be left as also-rans.

Complacency, part four. "Labour need to have done better - a two per cent lead in the locals is not enough to win next year." If this was the case in a conventional second order election, I'd be very worried. But this was not a conventional election. That script has been ripped up by identikit politics and long-term social trends and it won't be coming back. UKIP have and will continue to remain a contender in local and European elections. Contrary to what "professional" commentators might think, UKIP aren't about to die. So while talk of four party politics is overstated, it is the new normal for second order elections. What this means for Westminster elections is what pollsters, such as Lord Ashcroft's most recent one, have been saying for some time. A very sizeable chunk of UKIP support are very likely to drift back to the mainstream next May, but the remaining UKIP core will stay loyal in numbers sufficient to damage the Tories.

Complacency, part five. There is some truth to Labour not running a decent, national campaign. Volunteers and councillors did the campaigning on the ground. For example, returning to Newcastle more people were spoken to January-May than in the previous 13 years combined. But what is needed is a clear national story that can stitch the local campaigns together, and that largely didn't happen. True, some of it was out of the party's control. You cannot force the BBC to suspend its love-in with Nigel and cover policy announcements on the minimum wage and GP appointments. The leadership, however, chose not to go all-out. Sure, Ed Miliband and the shadcab visited target councils and marginal seats, but that was all. There was little European literature to deliver - I saw none. Nor were there any billboards. Instead we had UKIP's scapegoating plastered across the nation's hoardings. Then there was that silly party election broadcast with the incredibly shrinking Clegg. Okay, I accept the party hasn't got much money and it is very wise to accumulate resources in advance of next year. However, the implied message this sends out - that Euro and local elections aren't worth expending cash on - does little to reassure voters who are increasingly anti-Westminster minded.

Complacency, part six. You could be forgiven for thinking the Tories haven't just lost over 200 seats and 11 councils. Bizarrely, the media have fed this complacency by talking up the impact UKIP have had on Labour's vote when the real story is how badly mauled the Coalition parties were, and the part UKIP played in damaging the Tories. Similarly, we are told how disunited Labour apparently is while rent-a-gob Tory MPs go round and will tell anyone who listens how badly they need to make a pact with UKIP. Another favourite is that no party has never won a Westminster election without accruing a majority of council seats. Eric Pickles summed up their complacency on The Sunday Politics this morning. They're going to keep banging on about their non-existent long-term economic plan, growth figures and immigrant-bashing in the hope it will work. In actual fact, they're trapped. Just like their economic policy, their strategy for 2015 is now little more than keeping the fingers crossed and hoping for the best.

Complacency, part seven. Everyone's focusing on the results and what they mean for party politics. But this set of elections are potentially significant for a more substantive reason. Last week, I wrote about the amateurism of the barely-noticed No2EU slate and noted how UKIP stood as many local candidates as possible to take advantage of so-called 'double ticketing' - the idea voters turning out to support you in one election will automatically vote for you in another ballot taking place simultaneously. Obviously, at the time of writing the European results are not yet known but I cannot imagine UKIP will reflect their 17% local government vote share. Therefore any gap between that and the local results indicates split ticketing, of voting differently in two different elections. If the respective party vote shares are variant to a large degree across the two elections, it points to a further sophistication of the electorate. And if that is the case, those who hope their local positions might be safe off the back of a Westminster turn out next year might find themselves unpleasantly surprised.


Gary Elsby said...

Let's get the basics out of the way first. Labour's EU strategy was an act of cowardice and they got hammered for it.
Newcastle Under Lyme's dismal rejection by the voter is solely due to it's joined border with Stoke-on-Trent and the wipe-out it too faces in 2015.

UKip will not have the decisive hand in 2015 and the negotiations to agree the coalition that will emerge.
Labour will not win an outright victory, but they may gain higher if they adopt my Manifesto I wrote on a fag packet when I had five minutes in 2010 (I'm informed Labour are to do this).
The Liberals will fare as before but the balance of power may not be between them and Labour.
This leaves a strange void that I believe will be addressed beforehand by the Conservatives seeking outright control.
To vote UKip is a lost angry vote which we've seen time and again and will be rendered pointless.
The Tories will push their agenda of a 2017 in/out EU vote which is only guaranteed by a win.
Labour will oppose this (with my manifesto)(I want compensation).
The Liberals will oppose the in/out vote and so will literally everyone else.
I am not convinced that Labour will form a coalition with the Conservatives and will struggle to form any other outcome.
The general outcome will either be a Tory win or coalition built on the EU vote of which the Tories will be almost unanimous in supporting a pro EU 'IN' outcome. Labour and the rest will be likewise.
The result would be GB 'IN' post 2017.
Labour will have to have a revolutionary monetary manifesto that will put Blair/Brown into the shade to win overall victory with a dodgy prospectus for the EU.
UKIP will remain insignificant when realism beats their negative one trick pony outlook for the British people.
The weak point for UKip is their answer to a post UK/EU Britain,
They should be battered on that word for the next 12 Months alone.

Alex Dawson said...

1) London's brave rejection of UKIP

I do think there is a lot of bollocks from Londoners bleating on about the city being a UKIP free zone. This is mainly because a lot of trendies have cottoned on to the quote from the UKIP woman about London being more cultured and educated etc...

Look at Manchester (entirely Labour now, except for one independent), Liverpool and many other big urban areas where UKIP have also not factored. Rejection of UKIP is not exclusively a London thing.

Some of the wealthier outlying London boroughs like Bexley, Bromley Havering now boast UKIP councillors. Anyone who actually knows London (as opposed to some trendies who moved to Shoreditch 12 months ago and consider themselves authentic cockneys) will not be surprised by this. London has its share of ugly racism and deep conservatism like everywhere else.

The fact of the matter here is that UKIP does not fare well in the actual cities where there are concentrations of immigrant communities. But it does fare well in the outlying areas of these cities where the richer people commute in from. Hence the home counties (Essex particularly) being a huge bedrock of UKIP support.

The people voting UKIP on the whole don't live near foreigners, but they see them in the cities where they go to their offices, serving them food. People, ironically, who benefit the most from the economic contribution of immigrants in big cities are the same people who purport to want to stop them coming in!

UKIP know all of this. That's why they target the suburban, the home counties, the smaller urban towns such as Newcastle Under Lyme.

I well remember last year during the shire elections...UKIP had boards up on all the major routes into Stoke on Trent despite the fact there were no actual elections in Stoke itself! UKIP were, of course, cynically targeting all the people commuting into the Stoke from the shires. Effectively saying "look around here, at all these foriegn johnnies, you don't want your nice white English enclave to get like this, do you?"

This is, of course, classic hard right racist politics...pointing at poverty and blaming it on the foreigners rather than the systemic failures of capitalism.

In total, London didn't reject UKIP any more than other cities. UKIP's support comes from the slightly wealthier residents in the suburbs and countryside...

Alex Dawson said...


2) Labour's response

I'm not sure what Labour are supposed to do about this. I am sure the stock response is going to be to "talk about immigration" and end up going down the Blunkett/Straw route from the early New Labour years and start apeing the rhetoric of UKIP in the same way they disastrously did with the BNP and ended up helping the BNP grow.

A braver Labour party would accept that a fairly large proportion of the British population (mainly pensioners) actually ARE racist and that pandering to it in any way will do nothing to convince people to vote for Labour instead. We need to write off certain areas as militant English. They will not vote for us and never will, no matter what we say.

If we truly want to change things, it's now about building a new and radical support amongst the young, the disaffected and the very same immigrants hated by UKIP. This requires bold and unapologetic policies, such as a Living Wage, jail for bad bosses, tax avoiders and bankers...serious left populism. I would even consider some sort of lash up with the Greens if UKIP and the Tories start working together.

3) Role of the media

I am usually very cynical about blaming the press for electoral failure/success.

But for the first time I am convinced there is a national BBC strategy to ensure the electorate is brainwashed.

The journalism at the BBC is now beyond defence. I can no longer maintain my own personal position of defending the licence fee in relation to BBC News.

We are in very dark times and I now consider the BBC to be acting as a force of reaction. It is unrecognisable from Sky News.

Anyone who doesn't believe our media has had a serious impact on this election is living in a fantasy land.

Alepheight said...

A muchneeded sober analysis.

Speedy said...

You're wrong about the working class Phil.

London rejected UKIP because the demographic has changed radically over the past 20 years - according to wiki, 44 per cent of Londoners are white British, and given London's drain on the brains of the rest of UK probably about half of those account for the private/ public sector middle class.

So about 20 per cent of Londoners are white British who are more likely to vote UKIP. Hence they won one seat.

In a sense you could say this is a testament to an un-stated result of Labour's immigration policy but the psephological point has to be that of course they are not replacing the wwc but displacing them, so former working class Londoners end up on fringes where, hey presto, they vote UKIP.

This means your suggestion that this has nothing to do with the working class doesn't fly unless you are referring only to the northern working class. The southern working class are switching to UKIP - that they may have previously been voting Tory is not the point, and furthermore I would suggest they may have swung Labour in 97.

Another key thing is - i get the sense of fighting past battles. With this victory the future has changed - it has provided UKIP with legitimacy and a sense of possible in the eyes of many voters. Their new manifesto will anticipate attacks from left and right. I could see them growing in working class southern areas, which will matter as they may hold the balance of power in a hung parliament.

There is rage and contempt for the political class out there, coupled with a sense of powerlessness in the face of global capitalism.

When people don't think their vote much matters, they may be more prepared to take chances with who they elect - UKIP could surprise further. Their victory has given them legitimacy and no amount of crying "racist" etc will work.

After this, anything is possible, unfortunately even more sinister outcomes - the hysterical campaign to delegitmise Farrage has echoes of Pym Fortuyn.

EcoRadical said...

Excellent analysis, Phil. Two points that need to be hammered home about UKIP policies. (1) unless I have this wrong, their proposed flat income tax of 31% would raise the income tax rate for most pensioners from 20% to 31%. (2) They are climate change deniers par excellence whose solution to energy problems is a massive programme of nuclear power development - with no idea of the fiscal consequences, let alone the enormous environmental consequences.

Better, surely, to hammer away at their policies rather than accuse them of what is patently obvious - that they are (as DC said) "closet racists".

I agree with you - these people endanger Labour's future as well as the Tories. Is it possible that they may pose a threat to the historic party of the ruling class - the Tory Party? Could the Conservatives disintegrate - and if so, with what consequences?

Phil said...

I didn't say ote about London, Speedy.

Thing is, both you and Loz are right about where UKIP's votes are coming from. The question is then how should Labour meet that challenge? By attacking immigrants? By getting the leader to wander round swing seats eating fish and chips? Something tells me neither of these things will work.

Speedy said...

Get rid of Ed. Sorry he's a liability. Get someone who acts like a human even if they are not. Shame, as I'm sure he is a nice guy.

More seriously - present a coherent vision for the future.

Give people hope, a positive vision. Most importantly a sense of Place and Rootedness.

Describe a Britain they can aspire to. They can all feel they belong to. Reinvent the UK as a kind of US (in terms of aspiration and membership) - a hybrid country that celebrates its past and looks confidently to the future.

Labour (and the Left) is ashamed, embarrassed and sneers at the past and fears the future.

Phil - it is this sense of disconnect that sits behind the UKIP vote, not the economy, house prices. Immigration is symbolic because they see communities change around them, they don't like it and they can directly tie that to poltical change, one they feel they did not vote for.

The reason Labour and the Left do not get it is as they are materialists and have a deep fear and loathing of the identity element of politics (being universalists) but it is this "loss" of identity that people are reacting to (on a local, global and technological level), and until Labour can respond to it they will continue to drift further and further away from the people.

Phil said...

Ed's not going anywhere. Even if, say, someone wielded the knife who would he be replaced by? As "human" goes Andy Burnham, Stella Creasy and Tom Watson are good approximations ... but they would have no time to establish themselves before the election. Furthermore crucial months would be lost to introspection while the Tories get on with screwing over working people as per.

No, even if a leadership change was desirable it's the path to disaster.

Re: disconnect, yes, you're right. But that doesn't grow on trees. It's a phenomenon that can be seen right across the continent. I maintain that disconnect is rooted in a fundamental lack of a sense of security and yes, at the risk of sounding like a stuck record, that has *an awful lot* to do with economics.

Gary Elsby said...

I can't believe that you 'don't know what the answer is'?

The answer is that you do better at what you do than they do at what they do.
That is bog standard political science.

Stop bullshitting yourself that this lot aren't a racist pack of nothing.

Doorstep them on every policy and present a winning formula for UK re-construction and job growth.
Blair's R4 interview, today, hits it spot on.
Tackle the issues showing concern and concentrate on solving problems. Simple.
Many of the concerns shown by UKIP voters hinge on nothing more than immigration.
The cure is prosperity and Labour should carve an agenda that buries immigration issues into the ground.
If immigration continues to be offloaded into the political arena, then it should be me head on with simple solutions.

The answer to 'this years protest vote' is to be better at being Labour this year than last year.
That is why you are a member, nothing more.

Been here before and fought and won the day once more.
Hey, it's exciting.

Blair says: "Take them head on".
Gary says (on Guido, the day before) "Clegg took them on, Ed and Dave ran scared".

Hit them hard,watch them burn and
see no answers to £10K tax relief, re-nationalisation of rail ............