After Reckless, Labour must understand the real message of UKIP

by Jonathan Todd

When Douglas Carswell joined UKIP, James Kirkup asked, “what is UKIP?” It’s worth revisiting this question now that Mark Reckless has made the same journey. That Carswell and Reckless were both Conservatives seems to support the dominant answer. That UKIP is a dissident Tory faction.

“But there is another explanation for Ukip,” Kirkup wrote, “one that extends the party’s significance beyond the boundaries of the Conservative movement and into the way British politics is done.” He went on:

“In this view, Ukip isn’t about Europe, or immigration, or any other policy. It’s about trust, and its absence. It’s about a political system dominated by politicians who look and sound the same regardless of party, who go to the same universities and follow the same career path to Westminster, where they implement policies that are fundamentally the same.”

If UKIP are a Conservative problem, there must be a Conservative solution. David Cameron’s commitment to an EU referendum was intended to be this. But didn’t stop UKIP winning the European elections and the defection of two Tory MPs to UKIP. It is striking that both Carswell and Reckless put as much focus on issues that they feel undermine trust in domestic politics – the lack of a recall mechanism for MPs, for example – as the EU.

This might suggest that Cameron has been looking for the Conservative solution in the wrong place. If this is the case, if he were to fully deliver on, say, the Zac Goldsmith line on political reform, this would stem the seepage of support from his party. And certainly, in an attempt to limit UKIP mileage and isolate Labour, we will get a strong line from Cameron on one matter of political reform: EVEL.

If UKIP are fundamentally a Conservative problem, we should also expect that as prime minister Miliband nears, support will move from UKIP to the Conservatives, as voters rationalise that they’ll support the least bad option. This may happen. Cameron enacting a strong line on EVEL and perhaps other matters of political reform might also help him.

But if you have doubts about the likely efficacy of these responses – an EU referendum, being prepared to recommend UK exit of the EU in this referendum if negotiations prove inadequate, EVEL, scaremongering about Miliband – to the Conservative problem of UKIP, how do you explain these doubts?

As much as Labour failed to adequately counter EVEL at our party conference and left much to be mongered scarily over, if I were Cameron I would have doubts. And I’d explain them in terms of what UKIP are. Conservative solutions cannot fully meet the challenge of something that is more than a Conservative problem. Rational arguments alone cannot contain something as emotive as breached trust. All of which also makes UKIP to some extent also Labour’s problem.

Reckless has made Labour victory more likely next May. But the conference – perhaps more raucous in atmosphere than any party in the UK besides the SNP could now muster – that Reckless addressed was deliberately situated in what are usually thought the Labour heartlands. Michael Dugher appealed to these heartlands to resist the charms of UKIP on Labour List by denouncing them as Thatcherites. That Carswell and Reckless were both on the Tory right adds weight to Dugher’s charge.

But if UKIP are less a Conservative problem and more a lack of trust in all the mainstream parties problem, then Labour calling them Thatcherites is simply one part of a mistrusted elite casting them as another part of a mistrusted elite. “They are all the same,” Nigel Farage often says. “None of them has had a real job or worked in the real world,” he said of MPs at a rally in Carswell’s constituency, attended by 900 people, many more than, I imagine, any CLP has recently brought together.

Labour NEC member Ellie Reeves reports being treated with “utter disdain” by a midwife who discovered her husband is an MP. This suggests that there is at least one person in the NHS who doesn’t see Labour as their salvation but views all the parties as being as bad as each. All having breached trust. And when trust is broken, as any unfaithful partner knows, it is difficult, if not impossible, to recover.

Labour is struggling to give people hope that we offer a better tomorrow, as Atul Hatwal argued after the local and European elections, and that our elected representatives are more worthy of trust than those of other mainstream parties. For these reasons and more, Kevin Meagher is right to claim that Labour should wake up to UKIP.

But waking up should mean seeing things for what they are. If UKIP are a Conservative faction, Labour will think calling them Thatcherities is enough. If UKIP are about broken trust, Labour will attempt to straddle – to use Rafael Behr’s term – the believability gap that they pose for Labour. UKIP’s believability gap is contained within the “they are all the same” charge, while the perilous fiscal position creates another believability gap in terms of whether what Labour promise can be afforded.

If Labour cannot make people believe that we are not like all the rest, that we are capable of improving things, and that we can do so within the fiscal constraints, the future is bleak. Even, or perhaps especially, if we win next May.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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11 Responses to “After Reckless, Labour must understand the real message of UKIP”

  1. Raddiy says:

    But Labour are all like the rest, it is ridiculous to suggest they are not.

    They have historically even more that the Lib Dems nd the Tories ignored the views of the British public and especially the English for party gain.

    How can anybody forget the breach of trust when Labour promised a vote of Lisbon, only to watch Gordon Brown scuttle off to sign the Lisbon Treaty behind our backs. If anything typifies lack of trust it was that sqaullid episode.

    Labour has made the same mistake that the Conservatives made, assuming the status quo would be maintained, or somehow be re-established.

    Ignoring the political change that is already in motion in the Labour heartlands, how exactly is Labour meant to restore the lost trust, when the party is steaming full steam ahead in its usual ignoring the public mood on issues suchas Immigration, EE, Overseas Aid etc.

  2. swatantra says:

    Good point. UKIP isn’t really about Europe, its really about the rag tag and bobtail of people, the leftbehinders of Britain, the indequates whon haven’t the skills required to keep up with the pace of change in Britain. Its a protest movement, which in this case happens to be of the Right, like the Tea Party or the Leftish leaning Syrenia in Geeece.
    In the past it used to be the Libs then the Greens, now its UKIP with acharasmatic leader who leads a bunch of fruitcakes. Obviously these people are never going to get into Govt, or power, but for the time being they’ll do their damnedest to make life difficult for the politoical elite, although their leaders are actually part of the elite anyway.

  3. swatantra says:

    …. not so much the ‘message’ from UKIP which is gobbledegook, but the real lessons, that a populist Party with not a hope in hell of being i Govt, the damage that they can do to the good governance of Britain and its prosperity.

  4. bob says:

    Sounds like your whistling in the dark, in the north UKIP is taking lumps out of all Labour and Conservative party areas. Many Labour members I know are planning to either vote UKIP or sit on their hands on election day.

  5. wg says:

    So @swatantra – no chance for this inadequate leftbehinder then.

    As I can not keep up with the pace of change what do you propose I do – who do you suggest that I vote for; or would you rather I didn’t vote at all.

    And as any party that I vote for would never achieve power (it only being acceptable for one of two parties to be able to do so apparently) – do you advocate that I not take part in the democratic process.

    You have just illustrated, all too well, an, all too common, arrogant and judgemental attitude towards several million people.

  6. Ex Labour says:


    Based on your comments you are the Labour type who Jonathan is talking of. You resort to charactures and ad-homs, and clearly do not understand that the UKIP tanks are on your lawn. My labour supporting friends are openly discussing voting for UKIP such is the disarray of Labour, its leader and idiotic policies which fall at the first hurdle.

    If you think the sheep in the ex industrial heartlands will continue to vote Labour, you are mistaken. Cameron has siezed on EVEL and will play this out across the election campaign. It potentially will nullify some of the UKIP voters who will undoubtedly return to the blue corner. Labour can squeal all they want, but this will be Camerons game changer if he handles it right.

  7. tom400 says:

    “damage that they can do to the good governance of Britain and its prosperity”
    Bit rich, that one, coming from Lab supporter. @Raddiy – spot on. And yes, Brown skulking in to sign after the so-called “red lines” not knowing which way to look – very unedifying.

  8. Mr Akira Origamim says:

    Was it reckless for Welsh Labour to go into coalition with Nationalist Plaid Cymru?

  9. scott says:

    No, it is about immigration. Trust Me.

  10. Michael Taylor says:

    Well, maybe the Labour party should look at the unsightly nepotism which seems to have taken root in its selection processes. Any structure which delivers regularly nepotistic results should be taken apart and replaced by a clean structure. Otherwise, you’ll end up looking like India’s Congress Party.

  11. Mr Akira Origami says:

    ……and end up even worse than that……like the Senate in Cardiff Bay.

    Worse again!………Carmarthenshire Council.

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