Many questions will be asked about UKIP and their impact on the political scene in the coming weeks, and what the implications are for the General Election in twelve month’s time, particularly for Labour.
Its claimed that voters are looking for something new, something outside of the political establishment. UKIP is made up of many like Farage who are rooted in the Establishment, contested elections within the Tory Party for years, and whose ultra-conservative policies hark back to a golden era that never was, rather than a hope for a better future.
Voters still believe that the recovery isn’t benefiting them and their families, but the right-wing owned press is happy to persuade them that it isn’t the wealthy and their tax-avoiding multi-nationals driving the UK into a low-wage economy that are to blame. Instead it is migrants coming here in ever larger numbers, taking housing and benefits, whilst causing a disproportionate amount of crime. In fact net migration is static, migration has a positive effect on the economy, and the Eastern European crime wave is a myth. In fact, perceptions of the public on many of the issues on which UKIP campaign do not match reality.
Voters are told that UKIP “won” the local elections when they came fourth, that they are a new force in British politics when they have fewer MPs than the Respect Party (none) and fewer councillors than Plaid Cymru.
Overall Labour won more councillors on May 22nd than the Tories, Lib Dems, Greens and UKIP put together. It gained well over double the number UKIP did. The Lib Dems and Tories did badly, yet the media claimed it was Labour that had performed poorly. Labour all but wiped out the opposition in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and elsewhere, with its best results in the capital for decades. Labour gains in Crawley, Cambridge, Hastings, Ipswich and other towns have been played down.
It is claimed UKIP have connected with the voters where others have not, when in fact they have very little in the way of a ground operation, relying instead on big donations to buy billboard posters and full-page newspaper advertisements.
Meanwhile on the doorstep it is harder than ever for any party to connect with voters. Fewer read local papers than ever before. Leaflets get lost between estate agent and takeaway flyers, fewer people attend community meetings or are contactable by phone, the costs of direct mail are becoming prohibitive, and when voters are in and do answer the door, many are unhappy at being disturbed. All these factors can be overcome, but it takes time, hard work and money.
UKIPs policies would deny many voters workplace rights to maternity leave, sick pay and holidays built up over generations, and have them paying more tax for the privilege. However, beyond the EU and immigration most voters have no idea what UKIPs policies are. They are portrayed as being more honest than other parties, yet patently and demonstrably untrue claims about migration and the number of laws made by the EU go unchallenged.
Having given UKIP unprecedented exposure the media seem surprised at their “success”, and delight in saying what bad news it is for Labour, when half the UKIP vote comes from the Tories and just one in seven from Labour. A strong UKIP performance is far more likely to deny the Tories a majority than Labour. Unless they can focus more than 30% support in any one seat, as the Greens did in 2010, they will remain unrepresented in the Commons.
The polls have narrowed and UKIP have, for now, won some support from Labour. Yet Lord Ashcroft’s poll shows that where it matters – in the key marginals – Labour is well ahead and set to have a majority. Despite everything, Labour is still ahead. The results in the elections to the European Parliament, on a 35% turnout, are unlikely to be a predictor for next May’s General Election.
No one in Labour can take any vote for granted, and we should work to gain the support and trust of every resident based on good leadership, excellent community contact, and sound and realistic policies.
However we are up against a hostile media either defending some vested interests, or looking for something new, some drama and competition ahead of next May. Now we are also up against a populist party winning support on arguments that are false, policies that are uncosted, promises that are undeliverable. A level playing field this is not. Was it ever?