Nigel Farage’s Independence day

UKIP’s triumph in the local elections did not just damage the Tories

The overall results of the local elections of 2013 were towards the middle of the spectrum of expectations. A net gain of 291 seats was not at all bad for Labour, and there are several areas where the party now has a chance to exercise local power – Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire with overall majorities; North Tyneside and Doncaster through new elected mayors; and probably some hung councils (particularly Lancashire) where Labour will probably govern as a minority or in coalition. The party is back on the map in many counties where it had been nearly or totally eliminated. So why does it feel such a letdown?

The success of the United Kingdom Independence party casts a shadow over the normal ebb and flow of the main parties’ fortunes. It has become the principal opposition to the Conservatives in places such as Kent, Lincolnshire and Buckinghamshire. It has also grown into a huge political force in a number of seats where Labour and the Conservatives have traditionally battled it out for white working -class and lower middle-class voters, particularly on the east coast: Waveney, Dover, Great Yarmouth, Thanet, but also in places such as the new towns of Basildon and Redditch.

Labour did so badly in the 2009 county elections that a large swing to the party was to be expected. But comparing the results of this year’s elections with those of  last year, there are some causes for concern. Labour’s vote share was down in most places, as might be expected given the UKIP surge, but it was often down a little more than the Conservative vote share. The following tables show the 2012 and 2013 results in a number of local authorities based on key marginal seats.

 

Harlow Conservative % Labour % Liberal Democrat % UKIP %
2012 39 51 8 1
2013 28 36 4 28
-11 -15 -4 +27

 

 

 

Hastings Conservative % Labour % Liberal Democrat % UKIP %
2012 34 53 9 0
2013 25 43 4 20
-9 -10 -5 +20

 

 

 

Ipswich Conservative % Labour % Liberal Democrat % UKIP %
2012 32 52 11 0
2013 25 40 9 20
-7 -12 -2 +20

 

 

 

Lincoln Conservative % Labour % Liberal Democrat % UKIP %
2012 31 49 10 7
2013 27 42 5 24
-4 -7 -5 +17

 

 

 

Tamworth Conservative % Labour % Liberal Democrat % UKIP %
2012 45 49 2 0
2013 36 39 4 13
-9 -10 +2 +13

 

 

 

Even in areas where UKIP were either weak or did not put up many candidates, there was a small net swing to the Conservatives since 2012. Overshadowed by the UKIP performance, the Greens also did quite well in several areas, including in the unlikely setting of some normally Tory suburbs of Nuneaton where they defeated the Conservative leader of Warwickshire county council.

Norwich Conservative % Labour % Liberal Democrat % UKIP % Green %
2012 16 40 13 1 30
2013 17 38 13 5 26
+1 -2 +4 -4

 

 

Nuneaton and Bedworth Con % Lab % LD % UKIP % Green %
2012 32 54 0 1 7
2013 30 48 0 2 12
-2 -6 +1 +5

 

 

 

 

Labour’s showing in the key parliamentary marginals was very uneven. In some seats where the Tories are defending small majorities they hung on to their lead (Waveney, Gloucester, Worcester, South Ribble, Dover) or were only narrowly edged out (Harlow, Redditch, Nuneaton). There were also, it is true, some more convincing Labour victories that should have Tory MPs scanning the employment adverts (Amber Valley, North Warwickshire, Ipswich, Cannock Chase), and some long shots that came in (Gravesham, Leicestershire North West). In one target seat, Great Yarmouth, UKIP actually took the lead.

The UKIP vote has several dimensions. The party is conservative and nostalgic on the one hand, and oppositional on the other. UKIP’s conservatism is attractive primarily to voters on the right of politics, who regret the compromises that the Conservatives have had to make with modern life and feel alienated by the coalition. But parties of the right also exercise a pull for some traditional Labour voters. Parties to the right of the Conservatives have been picking up votes in working-class Labour heartlands for a while – there was only one seat in South Yorkshire (Sheffield Hallam) where they failed to breach 10 per cent of the vote in the 2010 general election. The rightwing vote was also more unified than before with the decline of the BNP and the English Democrats, who in 2009 had polled well in some areas, such as Basildon and Dartford, which became UKIP strong points in 2013. In the 2013 local elections this cross-class core rightwing vote was joined by a wave of opposition-minded voters. While from a Labour point of view it is tactically useful for the Conservatives to leach votes to UKIP, the surge in the county elections was so strong that it probably harmed Labour. People who were disenchanted turned to UKIP instead of Labour.

When the former MP for Waveney Bob Blizzard and I examined the disastrous results in the east of England that Labour suffered in 2010, we found a number of things that foreshadowed the UKIP successes of 2013. Former Labour voters seemed particularly concerned about immigration and abuse of the benefits system – and real concerns were often accompanied by a belief in bizarre myths that were very difficult to dislodge. The government and media have made the climate even harsher, for short-term political reasons, but this has created a situation whereby even the coalition’s changes will not whet the appetite for anti-welfare and anti-immigration politics, because no practical solution will suffice. Hence, the rise of UKIP.

It is important to discard a few possibilities when looking at the UKIP vote. It has very little to do with attraction to UKIP’s policies. Public knowledge of those policies is fuzzy at best, and the policies themselves bear little relationship to the real world. UKIP voters seem extraordinarily pessimistic about the economy; there is a zero-sum mentality that seems to have given up on the prospect of growth and sees the only way to advance is at the expense of someone else (and the corollary of this is often that people who are imagined to be doing better, such as immigrants, are doing it at your expense). Voters also like Nigel Farage personally, respond to simple answers to complex problems, and project their own aspirations onto the party – the Sunday Telegraph journalist Iain Martin spoke to a UKIP voter who had somehow picked up the impression that UKIP would be tough on bankers and the City.

UKIP has managed the trick of seeming anti-establishment while in fact pursuing policies that are in the interests of the wealthy, and consisting largely of an archetypal old-fashioned establishment – white, male, ageing and of the home counties. It is a frustrating moment in politics when a force such as this makes the centre-left seem establishment and elitist. Labour has paid a price, in the county elections and in Bradford West last year, for being fairly radical about its diagnosis of what is wrong with the current state of affairs but so cautious about what it proposes to do about it.

The UKIP surge will subside in time, but Labour cannot afford to be complacent. It is pointless to engage in a policy auction with them, but Labour does need to show that it is an insurgent party rather than an arm of the establishment. I hope that people will be looking for responsible solutions to real problems at the next election, but they may not be – the success of Beppe Grillo’s movement in Italy is a warning in this respect. The local elections of 2012 were encouraging for Labour, but those of 2013 show that there is still a lot of work to be done.

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Lewis Baston is senior research fellow at Democratic Audit. He tweets @Lewis_Baston

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See the rest of the May 2013 edition of Progress

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Photo: Euro Realist Newsletter

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Comments: 5...

  1. On May 7, 2013 at 10:15 am Andy Farrell responded with... #

    “I hope that people will be looking for responsible solutions to real problems at the next election”

    So do I. It starts with looking at the biggest ‘protest vote’ which is people simply not voting.

    It’s wrong to dismiss UKIP, who are, for some, the ‘acceptable face’ of orgs like those with 3 letters and it will take a lot more than a very good Hope Not Hate campaign to reduce their support which, as it did in South Ribble, (unfortunately for some) enabled a Labour victory.

    The only solution is to see the so-called apathy of most as the protest, of most, that it is and deal with it.

  2. On May 7, 2013 at 10:57 am wj responded with... #

    You really haven’t worked it out yet, have you.

    We have nothing but contempt for you all.

  3. On May 7, 2013 at 7:58 pm hypatia yavashli responded with... #

    “It is a frustrating moment in politics when a force such as this makes the centre-left seem establishment and elitist. Labour has paid a price, in the county elections and in Bradford West last year, for being fairly radical about its diagnosis of what is wrong with the current state of affairs but so cautious about what it proposes to do about it.” It is precisely the elitist character of the party troika that UKIP have targeted, and, as thomas cartwright puts it, the resemblance (?identity?) between the Westminster/Brussels/Washington political class/es that highlights UKIP’s choice of target. The desperate hatred, fear and terror of these classes of any chance that the ‘unwashed’ masses might have a chance to reject the drift/drive of the Eurocrats towards a unitary Eurostate is ever more plain to see. A referendum on whether the British peoples should trust the Westminster political class to act as agents of Brussels under the colour of owing the electorate their judgment as an independent ruling class (see eg Professor Vernon Bogdanor in the Guardian some three months ago, who well argues that this claim to trust cannot govern the (ever-growing) cession of sovereignties to Brussels) appears like the crack of doom or the Dies Irae to Lewis Baston’s centre left establishment.

  4. On May 8, 2013 at 9:16 am Old Grassroots Geezer responded with... #

    Being an “old grassroots geezer,” the UKIP phenomenon is not
    new to me and others of my generation. The rise of the SDP in 1981 is a
    parallel, although to the Left of UKIP. As Lewis quite rightly says, “the UKIP surge
    will subside in time”, similar to the SDP which merged with the Liberal Party,
    only seven years later. If the UKIP vote was a “protest vote,” what were the
    People protesting about? Could it be that “ordinary people” are sick to death
    of immature, gutless, cowardly, young (now, not so young) career politicians
    who’s life experience has been university and politics, never having had a “proper
    job” in the “real world”? Does the comment of WJ reinforce this view? Difficult
    to say as he/she does not expand upon the contempt he/she expresses. Was the Ed
    Miliband’s recent interview on Radio 4 an example of a young, immature
    politician behaving like a “rabbit caught in headlights” and frightened to say
    anything controversial?

    Lewis does not mention the age and varied class profile of
    UKIP’s candidates. Was this a significant factor in UKIPs success?

    A Progress headline recently stated that “New Labour ended
    Thatcherism.” Clearly, this can be seen as incredibly naïve for those of us who
    lived through the terrible years of Thatcherism. New Labour perpetuated the culture Thatcher and her
    cronies created e.g. PFIs, PPPCs, selling off the Peoples’ assets, continued
    Privatisation, the selfish “ME” society, etc.

    Lewis diplomatically states that Labour is “cautious” as to
    what to do about the “current state of affairs.” I would say “gutless and
    cowardly,” and I stated this at a Brighton Labour fringe several years ago to a
    panel including Polly Toynbee and Douglas Alexander. Ironically, the buzz words
    that year were: “Labour needs to be bold.”

    The People need a party which has policies that can give
    them hope and show them that it is “on their side.” For example, ordinary
    people are being screwed by Corporate Capitalism, Globalisation, privatised
    utility monopolies, yet Labour cannot offer significant policies to help protect
    them. For many years I have said that there is a fag paper between Labour and Tory
    policies. Voters cannot distinguish between the main parties – “more of the
    same?” No wonder The Apathy Party wins all Local Elections! How refreshing it was
    to see Glenda Jackson’s honest and open parliamentary attack on Thatcherism. It
    showed passion and courage so lacking in in our bland, career politicians with
    their intent upon their progress up the “greasy pole.” This is the advantage of
    having mature politicians who do not have to worry about careers and financial
    security. (See also my comments on “opening selections back up to working
    people”). Old Grassroots Geezer.

  5. On May 8, 2013 at 10:58 am Terry Philpot responded with... #

    There may or may not be certain parallels that one can draw with previous fourth parties and Ukip. It is also the case that one cannot easily dismiss the success they have had even in local elections which can be totally unreliable in predicting the outcome of general elections. However, there is one very salient point to note: Ukip’s success came at county elections, which meant that there was no voting – and thus no expression of opinion – in the great urban areas, not ony in England but in other parts of the UK.
    PS Re the comment to the Telegraph journalist that the Ukip voter believed that Ukip would be tough on the bankers, I canvassed someone who always voted Labour, but voted Conservartive, but thought the candidate was an independent, and did so keep Ukip out!

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