Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Taking on the populist threat

Tristram Hunt and Dan Jarvis share their thoughts on how to tackle the Green party and Ukip on the doorstep

Vote Green get Cameron

Tristram Hunt

Support for the Greens is a lifestyle choice as much as anything to do with concrete policy. Green supporters often see their vote as an expression of dissatisfaction with what they feel is a tired and negative political process. Tempting though it may be, we should steer clear of indulgent schadenfreude at Natalie Bennett’s car-crash media performances and focus on dazzling ‘Green leans’ with Labour’s progressive vision. Ultimately, Greens share many of our values – the key is to get them excited about a Labour government. Therefore policies that tell a story of a better future for the next generation can have a particularly strong impact. That said, for the same reason Green voters remain vulnerable to well thought-through negative messaging. Liberal Democrat treachery is still raw and many ‘Green leans’ have not psychologically washed their hands of complicity with the Tory enemy. As May looms closer this fear will become more exploitable – but we must tread carefully.

1. Labour has a progressive agenda for Britain: Labour is the only party with an ambitious progressive agenda that delivers for working people. Use policies like secure rents, banning zero-hours contracts, cutting tuition fees and our apprenticeships guarantee to show the boldness of our vision.

2. Point out the gaping Green hole: Nothing is more important for articulating a positive political vision than education, yet Green policies are a shambles. Delaying formal schooling till seven would be a disaster for social mobility, while Bennett says it is ‘unrealistic’ for schools to overcome inequality. Such defeatism fails our poorest children – in government we built Sure Start and sponsored academies, expanded higher education and slashed child poverty. The next stage is to raise the quality of teaching and spread excellence to vocational education. Labour has a tremendous story on education: tell it.

3. The Green party has the wrong priorities for Britain: The Green education car-crash highlights a broader truth – the party is out of touch with the concerns of ordinary working people. Highlight their anti-aspiration policies to these voters. Deliberate recession, discouraging home-ownership and committing not to create jobs come top of the list.

4. Only Labour can deliver a green government: Bennett has worked to move the Greens away from being a one-policy party. But most Greens are still passionate about the environment. Ed Miliband has an excellent record on climate change, having introduced the world’s first-ever Climate Change Act. Explain it.

5. Vote Green, get Cameron: As May approaches, the hard sell could become more effective. Deploy it carefully.

The organising story of this election is the demise of the universal swing. Putting our messages into a local context is more important than ever before. In Stoke-on-Trent the local Greens have made this particularly easy by aggressively campaigning against my support for the ceramics industry – still the city’s largest private sector employers. But there will always be a way of turning the local into the national. The other story of the campaign is voter apathy. Labour is running against this as much as the Tories or the Greens. Attack it by emphasising our reformist credentials, our modernity, our 21st century vision. The Green party sells itself as a new type of politics but on closer inspection it is anything but modern.


Tristram Hunt MP is shadow secretary of state for education and a vice-chair of Progress


A battle of principle

Dan Jarvis

Nigel Farage says that his party are ‘parking our tanks on Labour’s lawn.’ As a Labour party, our response should be simple: bring it on.

I have knocked on enough doors to understand that people are disillusioned with politics. Many feel that our problems have outgrown our politics. And some think the United Kingdom Independence party might be the answer.

A good example is a conversation I had with a man called Michael on a doorstep in Morecambe. He told me he was thinking about backing Farage because he felt Britain’s only option was to shut the borders for five years. ‘We’ve got to get our house in order,’ he said. As we talked about Labour’s priorities, however, it became clear that Michael did not feel any particular warmth towards Ukip. He just wanted to know how politics would make life better for people like him – a gas fitter with a family to support.

Our job is to show that Labour is equal to those challenges. That is why I have been out supporting candidates across the country who are on the frontline of the battle against Ukip. Here are a few thoughts for the doorstep from my travels:

1. Listen: This is really important. Many people consider turning to Ukip because they feel politicians are deaf to their concerns. Show that Labour cares. Your conversation should be shaped by the issues they care about.

2. Invest time in conversations: That chat with Michael took a good 10 minutes, but by the end of it he was voting Labour. So be prepared to invest time with people on the doorstep – it might be one of the only occasions they stop to weigh up their vote before election day.

3. Tell them what Ukip stands for: Whether it is privatising our NHS, eroding rights in the workplace, rationing opportunity for our young people with a misguided return to grammar schools, or its appalling plan to scrap our racial equality laws, Ukip’s policies would take Britain backwards, not forwards.

4. Make sure they know Farage wants a Tory government: He has made it clear that he would help keep David Cameron in Downing Street and support the Tories’ extreme plans for ideological cuts to public services.

5. Do talk about immigration: Labour would control immigration with fair rules, like tackling the exploitation of migrant workers. It is a far smarter approach than Ukip’s plan to jeopardise millions of jobs by walking away from our relationship with the European Union. If it comes up on the doorstep, say so.

Above all, talk about how Labour will help their family succeed in the future.

Many Ukip voters feel left behind by an economy that does not work for them and buffeted by complex global forces beyond their control. They need to know that Labour will always stand up for them and be on their side in a rapidly changing world.

Ukip represents a direct challenge to our kind of progressive politics. This is a battle we need to win, not out of electoral practicality, but out of principle.

The truth is that there is nothing great or patriotic about Ukip’s flawed plan for our country. Farage is offering only a broken vision of the past. Labour will beat him by offering a brighter vision for Britain’s future.


Dan Jarvis MP is a shadow minister for justice and a vice-chair of Progress


Photo: UK Labour

Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.

It takes time, commitment and money to build a fight against the forces of conservatism. If you value the work Progress does, please support us by becoming a member, subscriber or donating.

Our work depends on you.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Tristram Hunt MP

is MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central and a vice-chair of Progress

Dan Jarvis MP

is MP for Barnsley Central, shadow minister for culture, and a vice-chair of Progress


  • Both very good and well thought out. For too long, too many people think the Greens are somehow our allies – they most emphatically are not. For equally too long we,ve either been too scared to take UKIP on or seek to out-UKIP. Strength of both Tristram and Dan’s pieces are they they are rooted in Labour values and take our enemies on from that starting position – not opportunism or vacuous demagoguery.

  • Certainly they aren’t, but it is nothing personal, they just don’t understand electoral maths.

Sign up to our daily roundup email