Ukip’s electoral success is not good news for Labour

by Sam Fowles

Last week Nigel Farage announced his ambition, not just to be David Cameron’s “worst nightmare” but Ed Miliband’s as well. The general perception amongst the progressive media appears to be that Ukip’s increasing threat (aptly illustrated by the, suspiciously timely, resignation of Douglas Carswell) will be a net positive for Labour, making it more difficult for the Conservatives to win the next general election. This is a mistake.

All too often we see politics as being only about the next election. It’s not. Politics is about the sort of nation we want. Winning an election is a means to an end. That end is the principles we support becoming the principles that govern our nation. Elections themselves are not defining moments but the inevitable products of public debates. They are won and lost in the collective consciousness, not at the ballot box.

Margaret Thatcher she defined the public discourse. Although she herself lost office, every government since, including those comprised of her political opponents, have pursued policies based on the ideology she espoused. They view the world according to the paradigm which she established.

Here’s an example: Most good economists will argue that the financial crisis was caused by a failure of the (private) financial sector. Yet all economic arguments in our public debate are based on the premise that we must cut back on the state. We don’t discuss the logic behind this; it’s become an irrefutable “fact” of British politics. The “private: good/state: bad” paradigm is unsupported by history or economics but every political party conforms with it because it is the paradigm which defines our public debate.

To win elections but, more importantly, to see their principles realised, a political party needs to define the debate. Unless it can do so (as I have argued before) it will always be arguing according to it’s opponent’s terms and thus will always lose.

Ukip may prove to be of short-term electoral advantage to Labour. In the long term, they will push the public discourse further to the right. Labour may be in power but their principles will not. A party that is content to maintain power by implementing ideals that it should fundamentally oppose does not deserve to exist.

In the United States some liberals privately welcomed the rise of the Tea Party when it appeared that its effect would be to make the Republican Party permanently unelectable. Instead American public discourse was pushed to the right. GOP establishment figures like Karl Rove were made to appear centrist and reasonable while Democrats were forced to refight old battles on abortion and race.

If Ukip continue on the road to mainstream acceptance how long will it be before progressives in the UK are forced, once more, to defend hard won legislation on equalities, employment rights or the minimum wage? Rather than arguing for a better future, the left will be forced to devote all our energy simply to prevent it becoming worse.

So how should the left respond? It’s tempting to mollify Ukip voters, acknowledge that they have real concerns about immigration or Human Rights, in the hope of winning them back into the fold. But history should teach us that pandering to xenophobes only breeds more xenophobes.

Ukip supporters do not have reasonable concerns. The basis on which most positions in support of UKIP are founded are factually inaccurate. Supporting Ukip requires believing things which are simply not true. Pretending anything else will move the political discourse to a place where reality is permanently eclipsed by provocation.

There are real reasons that Ukip voters feel disenfranchised and these should be addressed but not in the way they are expressed by Farage and co.

In the 2008 election Obama For America destroyed John McCain’s credibility by focusing on the ludicrous positions of his running mate, Sarah Palin. Her most famous statement, “I can see Russia from my house”, came from the lips of Saturday Night Live’s Tina Fey. Palin’s politics were absurd so she was effectively laughed out of office. Ukip should be treated the same way. A party which bases it’s electoral appeal on ignorance and xenophobia should be a punch line, not an election contender.

The enemy of my enemy is not my friend. Labour needs to get serious about Ukip. But the only way to do so successfully is not to take them seriously at all.

Sam Fowles is a researcher in International Law and Politics at Queen Mary, University of London and the University if Sydney. He blogs for the Huffington Postand tweets at @SamFowles

Tags: , , , ,

17 Responses to “Ukip’s electoral success is not good news for Labour”

  1. Madasafish says:

    I read the following:
    Ukip supporters do not have reasonable concerns.

    which is a blanket dismissal of UKIP.

    Personally I think UKIP unatttractive and am not a supporter but any such blanket dismissal is obviously just plain incorrect.

    It’s not just UKIP supporters who worry about unlimited immigration and its effects. We only need to look at Rotherham to understand why people are justifiably worried about it.

    At that point I gave up. Such dismissals are risible and say more about the judgement (or lack of it) and the prejudices of the writer than the subject.

    (And I still think will not vote for UKIP)

  2. Tafia says:

    I would by now people would have twigged something.

    Farage intends to destroy and replace the tory party. To do this he needs a weak Labour government to take power in 2015. This then puts two inescapable events into process – a civil war in the tory party with a large chunk of it crossing to him and an economic crisis caused by a weak Labour government causing a chunk of their vote to cross to him.

    That then makes the country ungovernable without UKIP in a coalition and he will then change the goal posts – his price will not be a referendum on europe. It will be immediate withdrawal.

  3. bob says:

    Talking to a hard core Labour supporter yesterday in Liverpool, and I mean hard core, he is like me voting UKIP in the next election or will be abstaining or voiding our voting slips deliberately.

  4. Madasafish says:

    Let me quote two sentences:

    Most good economists will argue that the financial crisis was caused by a failure of the (private) financial sector.

    Yes .. that is true. But in the UK’s case it was aided and abetted by politicians.. “no more boom and bust” was G Brown’s mantra for years as Chancellor…whilst ratcheting up Government spending to levels which were unsustainable…

    Ukip supporters do not have reasonable concerns.

    So immigration is not a problem, and Rotherham never happened?
    And concerns about immigration are unreasonable.

    Mr Fowles is a researcher in International Law and Politics .

    Perhaps he should consider this saying “Those who fail to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors are destined to repeat them.

    It would appear he wants to repeat the errors of the past – which is remarkable as the news from Rotherham is less than a week old.

    But then to quote George Santayana (the author of teh above quote:
    “Fanaticism consists in redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim.”

    I thought the Labour Party existed to improve the lot of the British working classes. I must be mistaken as unlimited immigration and profligate government spending demonstrably don’t.

  5. Fred says:

    You only have to read this article and the article written by Jonathan Todd to realise how detached the establishment is from normal people. Their is a revolution taking place and Labour are about to get it real hard.

    People have realised that both the Tories and Labour are contemptuous of ordinary people. They have turned into political cults for their leaders.

    UKIP polling is solid and will continue to strengthen. The fallout from Rotheram and other Northern cities will damage Labour all the way to the election. I say bring it on, Labour just keeps failing, staff, multiculturalism, the economy, Iraq, etc.. It has nothing to shout about.

  6. paul barker says:

    This is a good example of the latent authoritarianism in much Labour thinking, trying to dismiss oponents as nutters. Lots of UKIP supporters beleive things that are not completely true but so do lots of Conservative, Libdem & Labour supporters. I disagree with everything UKIP stand for but they represent a legitamate point of view, essentially a more extreme form of Conservatism.
    The real worry for Labour is that UKIP are a threat to the cosy alternation of Labour/Tory governments. The big historical shift of the last 60 years is the apparently inexorable decline in the Vote share of the Big Two Parties & the growth of 3rd, 4th & 5th ones.

  7. Hamish Kennedy says:

    Interesting post Sam. However five years is enough lets take the Right spit vote as we have taken left slit votes over the years and get rid of the them.

  8. John Reid says:

    Ukip supporters believe things that aren’t true, maybe
    Labour voters, believed, that unilateral disbarment, wouldn’t see the USSR gearing up for a land invasion, wrong
    You could buy your way out of a recession, wrong
    Tax and spend would bring better services, wrong
    That’s state run industries were more efficiently run, wrong
    Let alone all the lies the hard left pushed, about the IRA were acting in self defence, and inviting them with open arms would cause peace, why not bring the UDA to the GLC in London then?

    And what did Livingstone and linda bellos , and Bernie Grant,say if the Tories won the 83 election, that the gov’t would round up and jail political opponents and gas the poor, and that the police after Tottenham in 85 would string up black people like the police did in South Africa

    Let alone a lot of labour voters believing there were weapons of mass destruction ,that could be launched in 45 minutes

    By just dismissing anyone concerned about Europe or immigration as a Xenophobe, or even accepting that immigration mass was wrong used to change the demographics to get more labour voters, as BME voters may vote for us, goes against the fact that, cheap labour abroad, causes wages to go down, for the working class, and recall it was labour who were the Anti EU party,

    Of course Ukip voters have real concerns, they maybe different to yours, and Labour didn’t accept the Tory line 17years ago on women’s rights, or gay people the poor or ethnic minorities, the Tories dismissed all this in 2001 and lost massively,we did fight the Tories on their own terms on the economy, because we argued that we could outspend our way ,out of trouble, and lost every election,

    You put the link to what you argued a year ago, about spending your way out of recession, and not accepting austerity, but all the replies to you ,rightly dismissed it, and you didn’t reply to them, then.
    Regarding looking beyond winning one election as a Thatcherite thing, didn’t Labour win in 74 with scrapping Heaths industrial relations act and Wilson spent so much money, to win his second election of the year, that we were so it debt for the next 5 years, it put out of power for a generation, unless you feel losing an election on far fetched resolutions is practical, as it’s a moral victory to lose an election, ignoring all those who suffer poverty ,if we let the Tories win, I suggest you listen to Neil Kinnocks 85 conference speech.

    What you totally fail to accept,is the working class up North, who saw their industries Destroyed by Thatcher, are voting for a leader who says Thatcher was his hero.

  9. LB says:

    Ukip supporters do not have reasonable concerns. The basis on which most positions in support of UKIP are founded are factually inaccurate. Supporting Ukip requires believing things which are simply not true. Pretending anything else will move the political discourse to a place where reality is permanently eclipsed by provocation.


    The problem is, they do have reasonable concerns.

    They look around them, and they see migrants on welfare. Migrants in low paid jobs. Migrants in social housing.

    Then you come along and say, look migrants earn lots of money. Apparently so much money they would be ineligible for social housing. Earning lots of money and apparently working in low skilled jobs. Migrants earning lots, and still getting social housing.

    The go into schools and discover teachers are having to not teach their children, but do remedial English teaching.

    That’s without getting onto Rotherham etc.

    So you can go into denial all you want that they are racists, that they are ignorant. Keep it up. Keep attacking and belittling the people you want to vote for you. It’s not going to work.

  10. Ex Labour says:

    You started off well, but then went back to your usual drivel. I agree with your premise that UKIPs success is not good news for

    What the financial crisis did was ultimately expose profligate, usually socialist left wing governments, who were living beyond the countries means. International financial structures and mechanisms were badly affected, so borrowing and spending was no longer an option. Therefore governments were then forced to look at “state” spending i.e. Borrowed money and look to cut this substantially. To assert that private and state can be differentiated is economic ignorance, and your implied suggestion that the state can carry on spending is absurd in the light of the collapse.

    UKIP have touched a nerve with the population, no doubt about it, but to describe them as xenophobic and wrong is arrogance of the highest order, but we are accustomed to it from you. Labour handed over power to Europe at every opportunity, encouraged no doubt by Labour EU loving criminals such as McShane of Rotherham. As we mention UKIP and Rotherham lets see what they do there as there is ever growing hostility to Labour and it’s PC pandering to sex criminals. The local Labour MP Sarah Champion was on TV and she still didn’t get it, she still was talking about multiculturalism, community cohesion blah blah blah. UKIP get it.

    This is the kind of situation where Labour policy has lost its way and there is little leadership shown from Moribund. The voters are tired of having diversity, inclusivity and other PC crap shoved down their throats. UKIP will make a meal of this and they are right to do so.

  11. Robert says:

    I agree with the suggested approach towards UKIP but it will help Labour if UKIP takes votes off the Tories. Labour’s less than inspiring recent history means that sneaking in with less than 40% of the vote is the best that we can hope for.

  12. swatantra says:

    Probably wake Labour up from its complacency knowing it has a fight on its hands.
    All the better for Democracy. Clacton will help Labour develop its strategy to UKIP.

  13. BenM says:

    Anyone living in Clacton moaning about immigration is clearly hoodwinked by press lies, and the creepy dishonest UKIP – like the knckledragging BNP before them – try to capitalise on that sheer unadulterated ignorance.

  14. John Ried says:

    BenM,yrs lets tell Ukip voters they’re mistaken by what they’ve heard about cheap labor from Eastern Europe taking their jobs, if we tell Ukip voters they’re unaldaterated in their ignorance, then Ukip supporters will say,yes our opinion was wrong all along! LoL

  15. Tafia says:

    Anyone living in Clacton moaning about immigration is clearly hoodwinked by press lies, and the creepy dishonest UKIP – like the knuckledragging BNP before them – try to capitalise on that sheer unadulterated ignorance.

    Labour should be protecting it’s core vote – blue collar semi/low/no skilled workers from having to compete with imported Labour. If it doesn’t then it doesn’t serve a purpose.

    Labour should be protecting the poor, disadvantaged, disabled & pensioners from having to compete for scarce services against not only each other but against imported claimants. But it doesn’t and thus serves o purpose to them either.

    Labour should be about Trades Unionism. But it isn’t.

    What it shouldn’t be about is protecting the middle class and property owners. But it is.

  16. John reid says:

    Just spoke to a large family of Traditional Tory voters in clacton who like and admire MR Carswell, even though this family voted Ukip at the last 2 EU elections ,they are appalled at what they’ve found out what Ukip really stand for, and are voting Tory, they even said if Ukip won and Labour come second at the next election, they’d tactically vote Labour to get Ukip out. Yet last eek in a survey they said they’d vote Ukip.

    Also the Yes campaign in Scotland is so intimidating, spoke to some of my families friends up their and they said to opinion polls they’re voting yes,as the were too afraid to admit they’re voting no.

  17. John Reid says:

    Suprised Sam hasnt responded tot his he normally comes up with more tosh to justify his rubbish

Leave a Reply