New UKIP – Old Labour

Lee Jenkins December 13, 2013 17

The Labour your father voted for is back, but it isn’t being led by Ed Miliband

For a time it seemed we had a balance in mainstream British politics; two parties of the Centre Right, and two of the Centre Left. The Greens and Respect are a single issue party and personality cult respectively. Yet this balance is predicated on the view that UKIP is a classic Centre Right party, a view that isn’t a clear cut as it may seem.

On their surface UKIP’s right wing credentials seem impeccable; hostility to the EU, commitment to a strong national defence, deep reservations over immigration, reverence for British institutions, and firm belief in law and order.

Yet it’s only fairly recently that these have become right wing totems. Look back the 60s and 70s and these were all bedrocks of Labour manifestos; Labour opposed membership of the then EEC, Labour supported National Service, Labour voiced the loudest concerns over immigration as British workers were being under cut, Labour were committed to keeping nationalised industries and opposed selling off the ‘national silverwear’, and Labour had traditionally been tough on crime, the effects of which are felt most acutely by the poorest.

Labour underwent a transformation in the 80s that dragged them away from tired socialist dogma and into progressive, metropolitan, Third Way politics which was far more palatable to voters. Blairites were able to make this jump because of a cold, cynical and ultimately accurate calculation; white working class Labour grassroots would always vote Labour because they had nowhere else to go. With the Lib Dems seen as a Middle Class luxury and the Tories being the mortal enemy, Labour’s high command could target the economically responsible but socially liberal, post-ideological  portion of the electorate.

And it worked. Between 1992 and 2002 the Tories stood still, desperate not to let Europe tear them apart. When the Conservatives did get around to reforming and rebranding, they found that whereas Labour had the comfort of changing alone, Tories had to share the dressing room with UKIP… and my, wasn’t she pretty?
Thatcherites and social conservatives salivated over this ideologically pure new entity. Even the libertarians in the Conservative Party briefly fell under the spell, though they now seem confined to YI.

But as time has gone on, UKIP has had its fill of disgruntled Tories. Activists and members who were going to defect have already done so, and indeed some have swapped back. UKIP is now attracting two similar but not indistinct critical constituencies; disgruntled Labour and those who’d previously not been politically active.

The Disgruntled Labour voter won’t be an Islington luvvie or student activist, but traditional grassroots Labour from the heartlands of the industrial northern towns. He (and it’ll probably be a he) will be one of those Labour thought they could take for granted. He’ll never vote Tory, but he will be socially conservative in a way modern Labour are not. Most of UKIP’s best parliamentary by-election results have come from traditional Labour strongholds such as South Shields, Hartlepool, Blackburn and Bradford.
The second group is harder to pin down, but there are commonalities. The previously politically inactive will have been inactive because they saw little or no difference between the Big Three parties. UKIP go out of their way to be different, even if this may come back to haunt them later. This previously untapped group of voters has no unified ideology, but has a general exasperation at a system that no longer shares their priorities. Sending billions abroad in aid while making cuts at home is just one example, in their eyes, of a political elite that has lost touch with reality and the views of those they supposedly represent. MPs expenses and the incestuous relationship between politics and the media exacerbate the perceived gap between ruled and rulers, a gap UKIP have gleefully taken advantage of.

Indeed, so well have UKIP played this anti-politics politics role, that every attack sent their way by the media only seems to strengthen them. Their images is increasingly that of the plucky little under dog valiantly battling a Westminster-Media cabal that’s declared war on everything British.

Labour will feel the pinch more than the Tories because Labour are supposedly to be the party of the working man, Labour are supposed to be the anti establishment party, and Labour are supposed to be under dog. For all the stereotypes of UKIP being red faced blazer wearers, Nigel Farage isn’t going to make a dent in the Home Counties, but he just might in Bolton and Rotherham.

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  • John

    Probably one of the most accurate articles I’ve read regarding UKIP’s support. Makes a change reading an article about UKIP that isn’t a hatchet job.

  • Noel Matthews

    Nice article Lee and , interestingly, just as I have set up as a result of popular demand, a meeting to establish an active branch in Blackburn

    • Deidre Vernon

      Best of luck Noel. Our branch started up with 6 of us last March and we have 57 paid up members plus good support locally!

  • http://www.DonnaEdmunds.com/ Donna InSussex

    Interesting article, but you’ve forgotten to look at UKIP’s fiscal policy, which is out and out conservative (aggressive tax cutting paired with a roll back of the state). That alone surely places it on the centre left?

    • Michele Keighley

      So we are to judge a party’s political ‘name’ merely on its fiscal policies alone? I hate to point this out, but this is not how the general public view the matter. You can try and squeeze the UKIP into a narrow definition, but their manifesto is popular with people from across the whole political spectrum – that alone should give the other three parties cause for concern.

      • stevetierney

        rofl. The average person has no idea what their “manifesto” says. They are supported broadly by people who don’t like immigration, a large protest vote to nudge the main parties in a certain direction, and the “you’re all the same” political “rebels.”

        • Bryan Tomlinson

          Only a small minority of Britons support our current EU hostage situation and the continued attack on our standards of living due to open borders immigration. Sadly, the ‘I’m alright Jacks’ that the Establishment depend are petrified of change. When they fear for their job or see their cushy lifestyle threatened they’ll be squealing for protection and common sense.

    • IForgotMyDisqusPassword

      Thank you for so spectacular demonstrating the flaw with the whole “left/right” political spectrum.

    • Bryan Tomlinson

      UKIP’s position on taxation doesn’t conform to an old fashioned and simplistic difference between left and right.
      My hard earned taxes should be spent wisely and we should all spend as much as we can on increasing productive employment in our country.
      Sadly, the tax collectors in Westminster believe we should look after the rest of the world, Establishment parasites and their public school chums first while imposing fake austerity on us British people.
      Wrong !!!!!

      • Ian

        Exactly Brian.Look at the BBC for just one example paying off staff then re employing them! The people I have met in the Glos/Tewkesbury branches are down to earth with common sense views.

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  • John Smith

    The test will be the #EU2014 elections in Labours Northern Heartlands
    My guess is the voters are either client state, too lazy to change, or Labour have already gerrymandered their PV

  • flyerphil

    Interesting article.

    UKIP need to try and shrug off its right wing reputation and be a broad spectrum party of common sense. Taking the best and sensible policies across a broad front. I support them and stood as a councillor last May.

    I particularly endorse their stand on education, with a return to Grammar schools as worked out in the 1944 education act. A return to manufacturing instead of financial services and out of control greed in the city.

    • andyrwebman

      Agreed – to common sense I would further add “evidence based belief”.

      Their denial of climate change seems motivated by dislike of political correctness – perhaps because tradional green party activists have often been the trendy lefties and champagne socialists.

      But there are also those of us who believe that the science is sound – and Mr Farage would do well to champion open discussion and empirical belief, as it would seem like a wonderful antidote to politcal correctness.

  • stevetierney

    I’ve been pointing out that they’ve basically become Lefties for some time now. They are Old Labour with a vaguely right-wing dress on, and the dress is threadbare.

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