Labour cannot allow itself to be pulled into UKIP-centric politics

by Daniel Charelston-Downes

It doesn’t feel like there are a lot of positives to take from Rochester and Strood. UKIP claimed the seat and the Tories will feel a majority of just 2,920 is small enough for them to reclaim in the General Election. It will be Labour with just 16.8%, a fall of over 10 points on the 2010 election, that will feel they have lost the most out of a seat that they used to hold.

The UKIP victory in Rochester and Strood is a success that belongs to the media. The press has ensured that UKIP, Farage and Reckless have been pushed to the front of the public consciousness and have kept them there. After the ‘People Powered’ hustings on Tuesday it was clear that many were impressed by the eloquence and ability of the Labour candidate Naushabah Khan and that they were thoroughly underwhelmed by the real-life, live version of the UKIP demagogue Mark Reckless.

The question of how to win seats like Rochester and Strood has to focus on how Labour can both win the attention of the media and steer the debate. On the final days of the by-election the papers, internet and radio were all awash with the he-said, she-said snappings between UKIP and the Tories over who had the most reactionary supporters. You had to look very hard indeed to find anything on Naushabah’s policies and statements on the NHS in light of a local failing hospital or indeed her own views on immigration.

To win, Labour has to be part of a movement that engages in a real debate with UKIP. There is a great deal of petulance, particularly in the form of social media, surrounding criticism of Farage and his party. To brand Farage a Fascist or to say that all UKIP supporters are bigoted nutters misses the most integral issue of the Rochester and Strood by-election, and it was not immigration.

There is definitely a fear of immigration in Rochester and Strood, although the actual immigrant population is relatively low. High unemployment rates, particularly in Strood, and an erosion of British working class culture has led to mass disenfranchisement on a huge scale. Every time that Farage or Reckless say ‘let’s kick that lot out of Westminster, it’s time for real change’ with a pint in one hand and a fag in the other it does look to those marginalised by politics like real change. Crucially this means that when mainstream parties attack UKIP for being bigots or nutters it simply pushes people deeper into their arms.

There have been token efforts by Ed Milliband and the Labour leadership to toughen up the language on immigration to appeal to UKIP voters. We will not win votes that way.  People are either vehemently against immigration or it does not feature high on their agenda, rare is the voter who is searching for the most liberal immigration policy in order to cast their vote. If you come out tough on immigration you marginalise those that are less concerned about it as they now think you are pandering for votes. Those that are anti-immigration still won’t vote for Labour either because they won’t trust our record.

The alternative is engaging in reasoned debate with UKIP about education and the NHS, as Naushabah Khan and the Labour team in Medway did. You can present to UKIP the Labour record for improving equal rights and challenge them on who they represent. Labour can create a dialogue of hope and unity that directly contradicts the UKIP fear-mongering tactics. If the Labour party were to take this up for their national dialogue, the media will follow.

Labour cannot allow themselves to be pulled into a UKIP-centric politics. Labour is a party of heavy weights; it is the party that created the welfare state and the NHS. It is the party that introduced the minimum wage. We have a long history of fighting and winning for British people and will continue to do so. Ed Milliband’s agenda for Britain is as popular as it is strong and that is all we should be talking about.

That is how you beat UKIP; better ideas, stronger policies and bolder leaders.

Daniel Charelston-Downes is a Labour campaigner

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3 Responses to “Labour cannot allow itself to be pulled into UKIP-centric politics”

  1. Mike Stallard says:

    I live on an estate in the provinces where the white vans pile up every night after work. One man (recently detained at her Majesty’s pleasure) runs an unofficial second car dealership in the street although he has been banned from driving. When someone complained to the Police, their catalytic converter was removed during the night at a cost of £900. Since then, his unpleasant and rowdy presence has been respected. My next door neighbour delights in machinery and he is engineer at a really useful local factory where they make little yoghurt sweets for children’s packed lunches. He restores ancient lawnmowers and rotavators in his garage and, when it is sunny, in the front forecourt. Most people work in factories. Their children (boys) usually fail the GCSE and drift into the local college which is much improved and which shows them that they are respected and wanted. Casual work is very difficult to get. The whole of our suburb is white van man with a generous sprinkling of OAPs. One person has had a really clever operation for bowel cancer which has allowed him to live on for a further few years with his wife whose daughter lives in the same cup de sac. In our suburb, there is just one black face and a family of sub continentals (not Muslim). It is white flight from the centre where the town is not almost entirely Baltic.
    Are you interested in any of this rigmarole?
    That is why Mr Miliband will never be popular with white van man.

  2. Tafia says:

    “Labour is a party of heavy weights”. Prescott?

    On a serious note, the vast bulk of the PLP are hopeless. Technocratic passionless office clerks who can’t handle conflict and venom. Most of them added together aren’t fit to lace Skinner’s bootlaces. If Labour had 50 of him they would be formidable in Parliament. But they haven’t – they’ve got a couple of hundred who are of the level of sixth form prefects peering round from behind mummies skirts and would burst into tears if you so much as raised your voice.

  3. swatantra says:

    Most MPs wouldn’t recognise real people if they hit them in their face. They are so detached from the street scene. And I’m including Skinner in this as well; he’s become institutionalised and cocooned by a comfortable sinecure of the palace of Westminster. He and Austin Mitchell and Ann Clwydd should have stepped down long ago to make way for younger peiople. They are the equivalent of bedblockers.

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