Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Could UKIP help Labour?

The rise of UKIP to nine per cent and third place in the opinion polls ahead of the Lib Dems in the opinion polls for the first time this week took me by surprise.

Like most people on the left I spend more time thinking about my own party’s problems and how to solve them than studying the right, so I was so preoccupied by Respect’s surprise win in Bradford that I had missed what was going on with UKIP.

They are in some respects part of the same phenomenon. We have had a growing splintering of the party system in the UK for many decades as old class alignments to Labour and the Tories have broken down due to social change. This has been accelerated at non-Westminster elections by proportional election systems that have meant minor parties have stopped being a ‘wasted vote’. Now we have a situation where the previous third-party repository of protest votes for disillusioned major party supporters, the Lib Dems, have ceased to be available in this role as they are part of the government that people are disillusioned by! So other vehicles for protest become more popular – I believe Bradford West would have been a Lib Dem target, not a Respect one, in a by-election before 2010, given that the Lib Dems took Bradford East in that general election.

However, Labour’s minor party threats are not on the same scale as UKIP. They are geographically or demographically limited in their appeal. The SNP only threaten in Scotland. Plaid Cymru only in Wales. Respect only in the limited number of seats with a very large Muslim population (the three seats with the most Muslim voters are the three where Respect has seriously challenged Labour – Bradford West, Bethnal Green & Bow, Birmingham Hall Green) – there are only 17 constituencies with a Muslim vote above 15 per cent. The Greens only in Guardianista heartlands like Brighton, Norwich and Oxford.

None of these left threats to Labour polls anywhere near the UKIP nine per cent. Ironically, they have more potential to take seats as their vote is concentrated.

But they do not, outside Scotland, present an existential threat to Labour’s hegemony on the centre-left. And it is not even clear how much of their support comes straight off Labour, and how much from the Lib Dems. In the case of Bradford West, Respect hoovered up Tory, Lib Dem and previously non-voting people as well as ex-Labour voters.

In contrast, the UKIP vote seems overwhelming to come from disillusioned Tory voters, especially their middle-class, elderly, high-turnout core vote.

I don’t think UKIP’s vote is concentrated enough to win any seats in a general election. But it could cost the Tories a number of seats by reducing their vote in marginals in exactly the same way that the Referendum party contributed to the loss of some Tory seats to Labour in 1997, for example taking 4923 votes in Harwich, which Labour only won by 1,216. If I was the Tories I would also be worried about the possibility of a UKIP by-election win if a seat came up on the south coast with lots of pensioners.

UKIP’s rise shows that the Tories are finally beginning to pay a price for being in government, and more specifically being in coalition government. The Lib Dems have been paying that price ever since they upset their leftwing support by going into a Tory-led coalition. About half their support switched to Labour in 2010 and has stayed with us.

Only at the start of the year, the Tories were level-pegging with Labour on 40 per cent. Now they have lost one quarter of that support, mainly to UKIP, and are up to 11 per cent behind.

Most of this Tory disillusion must be due to the political errors in the budget, the only major political event this year. The ‘Granny Tax’ hits the older demographic who most back UKIP, giving UKIP 17 per cent support among pensioners.

So UKIP has become more than a single-issue anti-EU party and instead a temporary repository for rightwingers to protest against Cameron on other issues too.

He can’t appease the hardcore anti-EU section of UKIP’s support because their demand – UK departure from the EU– is irreconcilable with political and economic reality. Even less extreme Euroscepticism is difficult to deliver on in practice because it would be unacceptable to Cameron’s Lib Dem coalition partners, so Cameron’s pre-election anti-EU rhetoric looks like cynical hot air.

If some of UKIP’s new support sticks with it – and clearly not all of it will – it’s most important impact is to move the winning post for Labour for the 2015 general election by handicapping our main opponent. Until now, it was generally accepted that about 40 per cent was the score needed to win in what looked like reverting to a near-two party system. With an additional rightwing ‘half party’ in the field that winning post could be more like 35 per cent, the kind of score we won with in 2005.

If UKIP entrenches its position in years to come by building a local government base (it scores well in council by-elections), the combination of this and the weakening of the Lib Dems could leave Britain with a party system that looks like the traditional Nordic model: a strong, united social democratic party on about 40 per cent and a divided right wing on 10 per cent-30 per cent-10 per cent.

Ironically, although disillusioned with the party system, the electorate rejected conclusively the AV referendum which might have meant pluralism in voting patterns was better reflected in election results. So if Labour can see off its leftwing splinters while the Tories fail to see off the splinters to their right, first-past-the-post will deliver rich electoral rewards.


Luke Akehurst is a constituency representative on Labour’s NEC, a councillor in Hackney, writes regularly for Progress here and blogs here


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Luke Akehurst

is director of We Believe in Israel and a former member of Labour's National Executive Committee


  • It would be my guess that all the Tory support haemorrhaging out to UKIP at the moment is only doing so because it is safe to do so, and it will haemorrhage right back before the 2015 General election.

  • This is foolish, the right-wing movement could well be united under a coalition of Tories and UKIP. The Tories are growing tired of Cameron’s Centre-right stance, euro-scepticism is on the up and the so-called rise of the ultra-right UKIP is bad news for everyone.

    If you believe UKIP are on the rise – flash in the pan if you ask me.

  • I wish I shared Luke’s optimism, but I can see areas where UKIP is abstracting as much blue collar Labour votes as Conservative votes. One can see UKIP in some respects as the ‘acceptable face’ of discrimination, when many UKIP members and supporters vote this way because they see the ‘logical’ progress of British withdrawal from the EU as enabling British immigration authorities to halt A10 immigration to the UK – something of an obsession with the right of the party. It’s something, long term, the party needs to address – not, as some posters here and as Blue Labour suggest, to tail and appease working class opposition to immigration, but to better explain and quantify it.

    Of course, UKIP’s ‘neither right nor left’ visage slips when they come out in favour of grammar schools, public sector strike bans, a low tax and protectionist economy, and a 40% increase in defence spending, something the great majority of the public are unaware of, regarding them as a single issue party.

  • There’s no doubt that UKIP reflects much of the current public mood. Disgust with a European trade model that somehow morphed into a political one. Weariness with porous border controls while the country threatens to burst at the housing, health and employment seams. Laying (albeit wrongly) the Euro Court’s lunatic decisions at the door of the EU. And the general awareness of a loss of UK parliamentary sovereignty which can no longer be dismissed as fanciful.

    There’s no chance of UKIP forming a government. But ignoring the power and popularity of its arguments would be a mistake. For any party.

  • Let’s all support the “thinking man’s” BNP because then we can put off coming up with our own policies. Again.

  • You’ve got to be pretty careful with this. According to this poll, 18% of Labour voters would give a second preference to UKIP (compared with 27% of Tories). If UKIP became more established in local government, the London Assembly etc, we might see a more damaging drift to UKIP than we have so far experienced, plus they also currently win working class votes. Also, the bigger they get, the more we will see of UKIP politicians who are less benign than Nigel Farage.
    We have already benefitted from their presence. Arguably (see Conservative Home), they prevented the Tories winning outright last time. But we should not allow them to grow without more vigorous opposition.

  • “Disgust with a European trade model that somehow morphed into a political one” – personally I see no problem with that over a number of areas, nor indeed do many of the population.

    “Weariness with porous border controls while the country threatens to burst at the housing, health and employment seams” – I think we’re veering dangerously into Daily Mail territory with the first statement here. Our border controls are anything but porous. The fact we are an island, the availabilitry of illegal work and the tenacity of illegal immigrants means that there are some – nt millions – illegals entering the country under the radar. But housing, health and employment are not generally compromised by illegals, through their very nature . It is not any government’s policy to enourage illegal immigration. It SHOULD be government policy to ensure we don’t have a low wage economy that doesn’t depend on a portion of illegals to work in car washes and as cleaners to ensure we have cheap access to services.

    “Laying (albeit wrongly) the Euro Court’s lunatic decisions at the door of the EU” -please let me know – please try and not quote the Telegraph or NewsCorp media outlets when you do so

    “And the general awareness of a loss of UK parliamentary sovereignty which can no longer be dismissed as fanciful” – see above.

  • “Disgust with a European trade model that somehow morphed into a political one” – personally I see no problem with that over a number of areas, nor indeed do many of the population.

    We now have a number of new EU departments brought into existence by the Lisbon Treaty – we are paying for these departments and nobody has had a say – remember that quaint old democratic custom, “no taxation without representation”

    Massive immigration has left our people on the unemployment scrapheap, our health system overburdened, and put our people to the back of the queue for housing – why do we need such high levels of immigration when we have so many unemployed.

    The ECHR does not hold my rights in its hands – to allow a body like the ECHR to do so is ridiculous; the ECHR are made up of appointed judges – the whole squalid mass of human rights legal eagles make themselves rich and there are an increasing number of people going to prison for ‘free speech’ crimes.
    The European Union likes this because it gives it more control over our lives. If you can not see the similarities to certain societies that have gone before you are lacking in history.

    As for sovereignty – well, I feel that my sovereignty has been lost to a load of arrogant, immoral, power-hungry troughers in Brussels.

    I will fight tooth and nail to free myself from these thugs – and yes, I will vote UKIP; you keep on burying your head in the sand but there are an increasing number of ordinary working class people who feel as angry as I.

  • It is where I live, believe me PurpleBooker – I’ve canvassed and people you would normally expect to vote Labour will vote UKIP. It may be different in the metropole where you live, but out in the sticks, where UKIP is the choice outside the 3 main parties, we do lose a considerable vote to them, mainly based on their policies on immigration, and the EU (but bearing in mind most blue collar voters’ opposition to the EU is based mainly on xenophobia and the migration consequences of leaving the EU).

  • ‘Current public mood’ being roughly translated here as ‘Mood in the editorial writers of the redtops’. How Liberanos manages to extrapolate this from his no doubt frequent liaison with the toiling classes outside of this, is anyone’s guess.

  • “We now have a number of new EU departments brought into existence by the Lisbon Treaty”

    We have government departments opened and closed by the Labour and Conservative Parties when in power – you voted in the EU elections and you voted in the members of government who represent you in Europe, and you vote in the people who choose the EU Commissioners.

    “Massive immigration” – so, no Daily Telegraphisms there, then. Do you even know where to look beyond the newspaper headlines to actually track what the level of immigration is? No, I thought not.

    “Our people on the scrapheap” – as I recall, the main reason that people recruited people from the A10 nations was the lack of trained staff in the areas concerned (i.e. care, nursing), or the lack of willingness of our own British workforce to undertake certain types of work (agriculture, for instance).

    “our health system overburdened, and put our people to the back of the queue for housing” – that’ll be our health system with up to a third of NHS staff from non-EU backgrounds in certain areas, paying into our taxation and benefits systems, then ? And you are, of course, aware of the ordinary residence test – no, I guess not, it’s much easier to parrot what UKIP amd the rightwing press tell you, why bother with anything informative?

  • I don’t need to look at any newspaper – and I don’t.

    I have watched major employers in my city choosing to employ imported cheap labour rather than train and employ our youngsters.

    Remember the “disenfranchised of Tottenham” – what government was in power for 13 years, what did that government do for those people.

    And why have your crowd made it so easy for our people to live off welfare – if you make it more advantageous to stay at home on the dole than go to work, what the hell do you expect.

    And as for “right wing” – what the hell is “right wing” – illegal wars? Fingerprinting children? DNA databases? Rendition? Torture? ID cards? – is that “right wing”

    But that’s what was happening when the last government was in power. Surely then, that’s left wing.

    Yep, I’ll stick with UKIP – your bunch despise the ordinary working people of this country; you are our enemy.

  • ” I don’t need to look at any newspaper – and I don’t”

    I hear this all the time from BNP members – apparently they are all statistical and media whizzkids who can actually physically quantify the effects of policies and don’t need any supporting data.

    “I have watched major employers in my city choosing to employ imported cheap labour rather than train and employ our youngsters”

    Surely an issue for the employers rather than the government ? And most UKIPpers are apparently happy for Asutralians, New Zealanders, and South Africans to come over here to work in bars and offices, just not A10 nationals – how does that work ?

    “And why have your crowd made it so easy for our people to live off welfare – if you make it more advantageous to stay at home on the dole than go to work, what the hell do you expect”

    …cont’d p.94, the Daily Mail/Telegraph. If the financial sector that got us in this mess actually started lending firms money, we might actually have jobs for our workless to do. What are you advocating then – workfare ?

    UKIP are irretrievably rightwing – socially and financially conservative, against immigration per se – if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck etc etc.

    “illegal wars?”

    Did UKIP oppose the war ?

    “Yep, I’ll stick with UKIP”

    Please do so, we don’t need bigots like you in the polity of the country, and with views like yours, thankfully you will always be on the fringe.

    ” Your bunch despise the ordinary working people of this country; you are our enemy”


  • The dead tree press are notoriously biased and rarely report honestly.

    Your second point is nonsensical – I couldn’t give a toss what nationalities are taking British jobs, I just wish that those jobs could go to the people in my community.

    For your third point – I haven’t a clue about workfare but I would like to see new projects in our cities be encouraged to take on our youngsters as apprentices as a part of whatever deal is reached.
    I would also like our cities to employ less agencies supplying cheap labour and setting up “in-house” works departments that employ people from our housing estates.

    Your fourth point – this “right wing” nonsense, well I can only put it this way.
    Our last government imposed what I regard as all the trappings of a “right wing” junta. Although, I regard socialism, national or international, as an evil. Left or right are two sides of the same coin. I actually believe the BNP to be left wing plus racism.

    You betray yourself in your second to last point – no one else must have a different opinion to you, must they – “we don’t like bigots like you in the polity of the country”

    So tell me, what do those people you disagree with do. Shall we stay silent, go away and not take part in politics – and, of course, this is what you’d like us to do.

    You like us to work until we drop dead, you like taking our taxes – but we must all subscribe to Ryszard’s world-view if we wish to take part in the “polity of the country”

    And I’m meant to be “right wing”

  • Just out of interest, if Labour encouraged people to only buy British goods, and, where possible only use British companies for a single day , would you support this?

  • Sorry David Spector but I would see this as a form of ‘tokenism’ to placate the former Labour voters who believe that they have been cast aside.

    The damage runs too deep for gimmicks such as your suggestion.
    I’ve absolutely no problem trading with the world out there, contrary to obvious perceptions on here, I have no objection to immigration – it’s just a matter of numbers and fairness to the people who have worked so hard since the war to establish what we have here.
    Labour has pursued a policy of re-distribution – a wholly admirable principle – but to impoverish those in this country to achieve this is perverse.
    We now have a divided society.
    It’s quite noticeable from YouGove polls – the young, who are idealistic but have not put in their 45+ years of work, are pro Labour’s redistributive principles, but the old are seeing everything that they have worked towards (their pensions) being squandered.

    The ‘agency culture’ that employed imported cheap labour and ignored the unemployment blackspots in our communities has resulted in our cities becoming divided between the working and the abandoned.

    There is also a divide opening up between those unemployed and uneducated unfortunates and our university-educated fraternity – surprisingly, it seems to me that many of the people responsible for the demonization of the ‘Chavs’, as described by Owen Jones, can be found on our campuses (notice how our friend Ryszard is so quick to wash his hands of those too lazy to take the jobs that incomers take)
    It is the abandonment of this underclass that has awakened in me a disgust for all three parties in this country.

    Incidentally, I come in that most Labour of constituencies – the C2.
    I feel that the determination to browbeat young people into university for ideological reasons is not necessary. Vocational training or apprenticeships are of immense benefit – the apprentice, as well as learning a trade, experiences life with a diversity of people.

    My final reason for voting UKIP is that I’m bitterly opposed to the European Union.
    The “left” has not woken up to this – still fretting from the 18 years of Thatcher they believe that the EU will create a socialist haven.
    Well, they are correct if they want an anti-democratic state – and I mean state; we already have technocratic bodies replacing democratically elected governments in the south of Europe.

    But the EU is the corporate state in all its glory – big business and governments, sidestepping democratic control, and ganging up on the people of Europe.

    VAT, Post Offices, Railways, and soon our NHS (Cross Border Health Directive) – the EU has its mitts in it all.

    But, I can handle it – racist, xenophobe, little Englander, bigot – we’re used to them all now; we’ve built up an immunity.

    Sorry – I’ve ranted on a bit.

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