The real lesson from the Euro-campaign is that taking on Ukip works

by Atul Hatwal

Take a step back. From the Farage-mania, the pre-written headlines about Ukip surges and growing hysteria that is enveloping the main parties. Take a step back and look at the evidence. Of what actually happened during the European election campaign.

Ukip started this contest with a floor for their support of 23%. This was the total vote for anti-EU, populist parties of the fringe right at the last European election in 2009– 17% for Ukip and 6% for the BNP. Given the collapse of the BNP, Ukip were the sole heir for this populist right constituency.

By the end of April this year, Ukip’s momentum had carried them from their base of 23% to 31% according to YouGov. The highest they had ever registered in a European election poll with that pollster.

Up to this point, the direction of travel for Ukip’s poll European election rating had only been one way – up. There genuinely did seem to be a major electoral breakthrough in prospect.

But then something happened. The trend-line changed direction.

Euro elex pic

Ukip’s poll slide began when Farage’s comments about Romanians were first called out as racism. There was a lot of controversy at the time and a debate raged on the progressive side of the argument as to whether Ukip’s campaign should have been branded racist.

Setting aside the slightly ludicrous contention that racism should be allowed to simply pass without comment, the debate over whether confronting Ukip’s racism was electorally the right strategy can now be conclusively resolved.

As the spotlight was shone ever brighter on Farage and his words, and the charges of racism hit home, Ukip’s poll rise first faltered and then went into reverse.

What started with a Guardian front page on the 28th April, culminated in the now infamous James O’Brien LBC interview and the Sun editorial stating that Nigel Farage’s rhetoric about Romanians was, “racism, pure and simple.”

For millions of British electors, the coda from the campaign was clear. Ukip were guilty of racism and voting for such a party was a step too far. In cities like London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool, Ukip were toxified.

Rather than continuing their upward trajectory into the mid-thirties, as seemed likely or even inevitable at the end of April, Nigel Farage’s party fell back by 3% in the final vote to register 28%.

The party’s ultimate progress beyond its base of 23% from 2009 was 5%. Not insignificant, but hardly the earthquake promised.

Then there were the results in the local elections.

Unlike the European election, there were no prior polls to track Ukip’s progress. But we do know that based on their results in last year’s council elections, their national equivalent vote share (NEV) was 23% (NEV adjusts for local performance to derive a national equivalent rating).

The expectation was that Ukip would exceed that mark this year. In a campaign dominated by European issues and with a national European election on the same day, the circumstances could not have been more propitious for Ukip’s advance.

Yet when the dust settled on Friday and the local election results were confirmed, Ukip’s NEV had actually slipped back from 23% to 17%.

And it’s no mere a coincidence that support for staying in the EU has risen as Nigel Farage and Ukip have become a fixture on our TV screens and in our newspapers – from 44% in November 2012 to 54% in May this year according to Ipsos Mori. Even entrenched Conservative Eurosceptics like Daniel Hannan are worried about Farage’s impact on their cause.

The real story of this campaign is clear, if only Britain’s media and politicians can remove their Ukip-tinted spectacles to see it: confronting Ukip’s prejudice works. No pandering or dog whistling is required. In this last campaign, it reversed Ukip’s momentum and contaminated their brand.

Over the coming year to the general election, Ukip will campaign hard on immigration. The lesson of the past few weeks is that the one way to tackle Ukip is to take them on and expose the reality of what they are saying.

If they stray into racist territory again, it needs to be called out, not coddled.

And on the substance of their charge that immigration is responsible for the ills of the nation, they need to be robustly challenged.

It means politicians, particularly Labour politicians, need to find the courage to explain why every problem in Britain isn’t the fault of migrants and how immigration actually benefits Britain.

Difficult doorstep conversations will need to be had.  For example, on health, it will mean explaining that reason our NHS is under strain is not immigration but because costs are rising, we’re all living longer and funding is under pressure.

And whatever the solution, we will need immigration because almost 40% of our doctors are migrants and the system would collapse without them.

Unless the myth that immigration is just a problem is tackled, all of the parties will continue to have a Ukip problem for many years to come.

The good news from the European election campaign though is that the British public are receptive to the truth.

And when put under pressure, Ukip panic and crumble.  If anyone doubts their fragility, just remember three words: Croydon Ukip carnival.

The real question is whether our politicians look at the actual evidence of the campaign and understand this, or continue to base their responses on hyperbolic headlines that bear only a passing relevance to electoral reality.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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12 Responses to “The real lesson from the Euro-campaign is that taking on Ukip works”

  1. paul barker says:

    Excellent article but imagine how much harder we could have hit UKIP if the debates had included Cameron, Milliband & Bennett.

  2. Tafia says:

    This is complete rubbish and fails to take into account the very first rule – the margin of error. 31% could be anywhere from 33% to 29%. It then fails to take into account the variances between different pollsters.

    If this is the best you can come up with UKIP will cause havoc next year and it’s no more than you deserve.

    Unless the myth that immigration is just a problem is tackled, all of the parties will continue to have a Ukip problem for many years to come. This is a very very middleclass position. The bulk of our emigrants to the EU are skilled – such as my daughter who is a banker in Luxembourg. The bulk of the immigrants however are low skilled/no skilled and are competing head-on against our own low-skilled/no skilled and you are suggesting absolutely nothing to stop that. In addition they are being paid tax credits, child allowances, unemployment benefits and allowed straight on social housing lists amongst many other things. Forget the middle/professional classes – if you continue to pay more attention to them and not addressing* the concerns of the low skilled/no skilled (remeber them? they are supposed to be Labour’s Casus Belli and what it exists for and it’s backbone) you do not even deserve to be the opposition let alone the government.

    Start learning to be democratic socialists like you are supposed to be instead of poncey, pointless, metropolitan middle class social democrats that you have become. London is of no importance to the vast bulk of the population and is not even vaguely representative of how the rest of the country lives or thinks.

    Ronald McDonald will be PM before that buffoon Miliband or his replacemant in waiting Umunna.
    (* addressing – actually doing something to sort it out in their favour as opposed to offering a sympathetic ear but carrying on regardless)

  3. Ex Labour says:

    This is just a rehash of your previous blog. UKIP nasty racist blah blah blah……..

    The truth is that they strike a chord with large sections of the electorate, who do not live amongst the metrosexual, bleeding heart, middle class chatterati in London. If anything the results demonstrated this more than any other point you want to make.

    Any party which goes from 5% to 29% is doing pretty well I’d say. Of course you can spin it and say this or that is decreasing here or there. The truth is they won, and won in style. They hit the main parties where it hurts and as someone has already pointed out polls differed and there are standard margins of error, so crowing about a 2% decline in support is piss poor and desperate on your part.

    Labour only started attacking UKIP when it became clear that Miliband is a morose libaility with all the personality of a dead sheep and that blue collar supporters were leaving Labour for UKIP. Why ? Because they watch unskilled and semi-skilled migrants take their jobs, get school places, welfare benefits, NHS treatment and so on when they have paid nothing into our coffers.

    Thats the reality of life outside London, so put down your Skinny Latte and get out of the capitol and see what its like for the oppressed minions ‘provinces’. Perhaps then you might not write such drivel.

  4. Tafia says:

    Something else you fail to mention – the voting pattern confirms UKIP is very much an ‘English’ thing. In the Welsh areas of Wales – Ynys Mon, Gwynedd, Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire etc etc, Plaid topped the poll. It was in the more ‘English’ areas of Wales such as the North East (Wrecsam, Flintshire, Denbighshire, Conwy etc) and the South of Wales where UKIP did well, topping the poll. Scotland was similar – the Scottish areas remaining SNP and the more anglicised areas drifting to UKIP.

    Meanwhile back in England itself, in the East & West Midlands – where a large number of swing seats are, Labour polled nowhere near well enough to win a majority next year, probably not even well enough to win as a minority.

  5. John Reid says:

    I didn’t see Ukips rating fall after the Romanian, regarding he margin of error, they seem pretty accurate ,but they do suggest London ,excluded, labour won’t win.

  6. Tafia says:

    re My last post “where UKIP did well, topping the poll.” That should be where UKIP did well, topping the poll in some areas.

  7. John reid says:

    All these replies seem to destroy this article, the awkward thing is they’re by people who labour need to get on side to win.

  8. Welsh Borderer says:

    The article is right to get UKIP’s performance in accurate context. The reduction in their vote in 2 different elections held on the same day is also an accurate predictor of what will happen in a GE. European elections which don’t even decide EU policies are an invitation to protest. In a GE UKIP’s total vote in the Euros will at least halve and turnout double. Result : UKIP = 7/8%.

    So Labour are right to take a measured view and I thought Sadiq Khan had it more or less right in his media statement yesterday.

    As for Wales, well Tafia isn’t right to imply S Wales voted UKIP. In fact Labour topped the poll in every single one of the counties normally classified as S Wales except the Vale – which has a strong Plaid and Crachach contingent – but voted UKIP, and the English speakers of Monmouthshire which failed to turn purple thus ruining Taf’s narrative of the treasonous Anglo-Welsh. If he is looking for treason and plot try the 5th most Welsh speaking part of Wales – Conwy – which voted UKIP first. Look the truth is that UKIP were a vehicle for protest right across Wales – they came 1st or 2nd in every single Welsh County. Blaming the English speakers is a pathetic response and echoes the kind of petty nationalism which is a hallmark of UKIP itself.

  9. Robert says:

    Welsh Borderer said what I wanted to say. Many of my illusions about Wales, Welsh and English speaking, were shattered last week. London is more left-wing than Wales apparently. Nye Bevan must be spinning in his grave!

    I agree with Atul on immigration. Immigrants make London a nice place to live for Welsh immigrants like me!

  10. Tafia says:

    Welsh Borderer read the amendment at 7.57pm, then slap yourself for not following the chain. The size of UKIPs vote in each county was very closely linked to how anglicised it is. The higher the Plaid vote is normally, the lower UKIPs percentage was. You can find all the welsh figures by county on the election website.

    Being the fifth most welsh isn’t that welsh and Conwy doesn’t have a significant Plaid vote (the Plaid element in normal elections comes from the bolt-ons to make the Aberconwy constituency) as do the four above it. The truth is – as you very well know, Plaids vote held up in their areas.

    Also, you are being racist. I never mentioned English speakers. Plenty of non welsh speakers vote Plaid and plenty of welsh speakers vote for others. In fact, Leanne Wood the head of Plaid couldn’t speak welsh when she became leader a couple of years ago and is still learning which illustrates just how twisted you tried to make that.

  11. welsh borderer says:

    Taffia, you do seem to use extreme language to express your opinion, and resorting in desperation to the R word whilst failing to rebut any of the facts in my earlier email does rather underline that point. In fact you were the one who introduced the theme of “English” and “Welsh” areas of Wales in one of your previous posts. I was simply stating that the correlation between being from an “English” area and voting UKIP doesn’t really stand up. The plain fact is that Wales voted for UKIP everywhere – they came 1st or 2nd everywhere, unlike Labour, the Conservatives and Plaid, who all managed to get poor third places as well as 1sts and 2nds. You can deceive yourself if you wish, but that’s what the figures show. Welsh citizens voting UKIP everywhere. I didn’t (not least because I am not a racist), and I expect you didn’t, but there it is. Part of it was a protest against the 4 established parties in Wales.

  12. Tafia says:

    You avoid the point that the more Welsh an area, the better the Plaid vote held up and the worse UKIP did. And that is a fact.

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