Untapped Reserves: UKIP & The Traditional Labour Voter
As I’ve talked about previously, UKIP is a curious beast, yet from the outside we look rather one dimensional. The stereotypical UKIP member is a red cheeked, late middle aged blazer wearing Tory in a strop. They’ll be obsessed with Europe, morn the Empire, and be just a quick to hang a shoplifter as hunt a fox.
We know this is nonsense. UKIP has as many libertarians as it does social conservatives. The fastest rate of growth in the party is among the young, and for an increasing number, this author included, Europe is actually pretty low down the list of priorities.
That we need to change our image is self evident. But what do we change it to? Who’s our target market? From where do we need to recruit?
The knee jerk reaction is obvious; disaffected Tories. And it’s certainly true that much of our membership comes from the blue team. But in targeting the Thatcherites who’ve given up on Cameron and his Fluffy Conservatism, are we forsaking a vast swath of the electorate? I’m referring to Traditional Labour.
I was tempted to use the phrase Old Labour, but that has come to mean the Labour of the 1980’s, held hostage by militant Unions and run by an intellectual elite who were too busy fawning over the Soviet Union to see that the British electoral landscape was changing beneath their feet.
I’m talking about the Labour your grandparents knew, not the Labour your parents knew. Labour in the 1950’s and 60’s was a far cry from Blair and Kinnock. It was a Labour government that saw Britain acquire an independent nuclear deterrent. Labour had strong reservations about immigration, lest it push down the wage of the British worker. Some of the fiercest criticism of the Soviet Union came from Labour. Defence spending generally faired well under Labour. Labour originally opposed joining the Common Market. Law and Order was always a top priority, especially in working class areas. Grammar schools were supported by Labour, as were maintaining links with the Commonwealth.
….starting to see some common ground yet?
And this spirit is still alive. Hounslow, Salford, Stretford, Bolton; I’ve lived in Labour areas all my life, and the modern Labour Party have had no connection or resonance with my neighbours in any of these areas. And this isn’t just anecdotal evidence on my part, look at the numbers: UKIP’s best parliamentary election results haven’t come from the Conservative heartlands of Surrey or the Cotswolds; they’ve come from Wakefield, Burnley, Hartlepool and now Rochdale. Labour bastions.
Dozens of Labour ‘safe seats’ are only thought of as safe because they’ve never been challenged. Many working class people in these areas wouldn’t vote Conservative if you put a gun to their head. The brand is toxic, irrespective of how many baby seals Cameron saves. But as we’ve seen, given the chance and with a decent campaign, they will vote UKIP. They do so because they see in us what they used to see in Labour before the Islington Set took over; reward for hard work, patriotism, a strong defence, bobbies on the beat.
Young Independence can lead the way in this. Conservative Future never had a chance of making in-roads because they were/are a London Centric after-school club for rich kids. If you’re a young Tory and unlucky enough to live outside the M25 you are little more than leaflet fodder. Young Independence doesn’t operate like this. If we can continue to build up the regional organisations, especially in the university cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, York and Newcastle, UKIP will have a tremendous opportunity to make real gains in those areas. Many graduates stay in the cities in which they studied, they’ll have networks of friends and contacts and will be familiar with the area. You can’t parachute in local knowledge, however many friends they have at Party HQ.
People underestimate UKIP because they rely on a tired characterture of us. Let’s not make the mistake of thinking that every Labour constituency is populated by Guardian reading students, knuckle dragging unionists and champagne socialists.
We’re a national party with a broad manifesto, Rochdale proved this. It would be a tragedy if we convinced ourselves we were just a Conservative Eretz, terrified to leave our Home Counties fortress.