As Ukip’s second leadership race in as many seasons kicks off, it appears that it will be a coronation for North West MEP Paul Nuttall. Even though Ukip’s party has slumped to their lowest polling in two years, the party are still most definitely a threat.
Nuttall’s leadership pitch seems to be based around the idea of breaking down the eurosceptic Labour heartlands, which seem increasingly disenfranchised by the Labour party. Nuttall promised a referendum on bringing back capital punishment, and wants to overturn the smoking ban in pubs. While at face value these may seem silly to many voters, an electoral theme of social conservatism and economic redistribution is a popular mix in many Labour constituencies. In fact, in Labour’s 48 constituencies in the north-west, only four of them have a majority of voters against the death penalty – all of which are university town seats.
While a move to extreme social conservatism like Nuttall would be catastrophic news, Labour must do more to listen to the concerns of these voters. After the seismic shift in politics when the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, Labour needs to heed the warning of the voters before the country returns to the ballot box again.
To compound this, it is obvious Nuttall is well aware of these trends. In a discussion with talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley Brewer, he described Ukip’s electoral prospects as an ‘open goal … in those working-class constituencies.’
In recent polls, it has been proved that the heart of Labour problems lie with a lack of support among older people, including a poll that put Labour 34 points behind the Conservatives among the over 65s, which is undoubtedly a worrying trend. While there is a tangible emotional connection to Labour in many areas in the north, it can be a double-edged sword. Labour are seen by some to have betrayed the voters they claim to represent, by unilaterally deciding not only what is in the voters’ best interests, but that the party is entitled to their votes.
One thing that unites all sections of the Labour party is that they support both leftwing social and economic policies. However, unless many realize that most voters do not fit into the leftwing and liberal, or right wing and authoritarian quadrants that many voters will feel ignored, and that these feelings are widespread enough to damage Labour for a generation. Even in Labour’s safest seat at the last general election, 79 per cent of voters in Liverpool Walton perceive the criminal justice system to be too lenient.
According to academic Chris Hanretty, up to 70 per cent of Labour seats voted Leave, including places like Hartlepool, where in 2015 Ukip surged by 20 per cent in the seat. With a relatable leader, who seems to grasp the issues of working-class voters, a perfect storm seems to be forming against Labour.
In Hartlepool, where Ukip polled over 30 per cent at the general election, nearly 70 per cent of voters think there should be more government redistribution of income, however 48 per cent also think human rights laws have been bad for British justice. And Great Grimbsy, a seat held by Labour since 1945, where Ukip polled 25 per cent in 2015, 80 per cent of voters believe there should be tighter controls on immigration, while simultaneously 88 per cent of voters think that the minimum wage is too low.
Yet Labour remain unmoved. As Labour refuses to debate Brexit at conference, both Conservative and Ukip organising roles are being made available in Labour heartlands. When the Labour press team rightfully attacked the Tories for missing their immigration target by three times what they pledged to, many members complained about Labour trying to ‘outflank’ the Tories on immigration. If Labour becomes a party where it squirms at pointing out incompetency, purely based off the disdain towards a certain policy, it has no right to govern.
If Labour’s ‘true’ opposition turns into a situation where they cannot participate in arguments of competency, the demise of Labour as a party of true opposition, never mind government, is inescapable.
Ben Gartside is a member of Progress. He tweets at @BenGartside98
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.