By Paul Roberts
There is no significant electoral threat to Labour from UKIP. The real danger arises from adaption to its politics.
The balance of support of Britain’s political parties, confirmed by opinion polls and actual voting, including last week’s Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election, indicates Labour remains on course to become the largest party at next year’s general election. This is being achieved on the back of divisions on the right between the Tories and UKIP plus disgust at Lib Dem acquiescence with the Tories.
UKIP’s growth is a serious strengthening of the hard right and its racist agenda needs to be resolutely fought.
At the same time, because UKIP is advancing by dividing the right, this poses a big electoral threat to the Tories, but not to Labour. Labour’s challenge is to solidify a coalition of support which knits in large numbers of former Lib Dem voters who reject the backing Lib Dem MPs give to Tory policies. That is best aided by Labour attacking the entire UKIP agenda.
The split in the right also gives Labour breathing space to pursue a more radical agenda. It does not have to bend to the Tories’ spending plans for the next parliament. It could campaign for measures that would halt and reverse the fall in living standards. Setting the agenda by a modest energy price cap and talking about the cost of living crisis has been to Labour’s benefit. Reactionary rhetoric on cuts, social security and immigration erodes Labour’s support.
Although Labour support is only in the high 30 per cents, because of the unpopularity of the Tories Labour looks set to become Parliament’s largest party in May 2015, possibly with an overall majority.
The Tory Party is continuing its long-term decline, the current stage of which is the radicalisation and division on its right, with UKIP winning over part of its former support. There should be no complacency on the left about this problem for the Tories; the overwhelming dynamic within British politics is a shift to the right. Significant sections of the population are reacting to Tory austerity policy by turning against migrants and the poor instead of against capital and the banks responsible for declining living standards.
At present the Tory crisis is strengthening the racist right to a far greater degree than the smaller radicalisation on the left that stands for progressive alternatives to austerity.
So whilst the division on the right can assist Labour gain seats at the next General Election, the reactionary right wing remains a serious threat. The combined strength of the Tories and UKIP currently is ahead of Labour, at a time when the latter is relatively popular.
The UK Independence Party (UKIP) is Britain’s equivalent to the US Tea Party; a hard right that campaigns on a populist, xenophobic, anti-migrant, racist agenda. Its policies are: for a stronger military, deeper welfare cuts, reduced employment rights and flat taxes to assist the rich; its candidates are infamous for their bigoted outbursts of racism, sexism and homophobia.
Support for UKIP has been steadily rising for 20 years; at European Parliamentary Elections from 1% in 1994 to 16.6% in 2009, and at General Elections from 0.3% in 1997 to 3.1% in 2010. Having come second at the last European Election it is expected to do well this May.
Since the 2010 General Election UKIP’s standing in opinion polls has been steadily rising, from 3.1% to within the range of 10-13% at present. The main source of UKIP support is defection from the Tories. Both the overall pattern of changing party support (see graph) and large sample opinion polls (see pie charts) confirm this.
The graph (below) shows polling data since the 2010 General Election. The Tory and UKIP trends are mirror images of each other; as UKIP rises the Tories fall and vice versa. Since 2010 the same is true of the Labour and Lib Dem polling.
Source: Polling Observatory
At the 2010 General Election the UK shares of the vote were: Tory 36.1%, Labour 29.0%, Lib Dem 23.0%, UKIP 3.1%.
Currently opinion polls record support as: Tories in the low thirties, Labour in the high thirties, UKIP around 11% with the Lib Dems less than 10%.
Over the almost-four year period (from May 2010 to now) there have been two fundamental shifts in blocs of opinion. On the left of the political spectrum a 10% bloc of the electorate switched from the Lib Dems to Labour just after the 2010 election and most of it has remained with Labour since. On the right end of the spectrum a 10% bloc has progressively switched its allegiance to UKIP, the largest part of which comes from the Tories.
Lord Ashcroft’s polling directly confirms that UKIP’s main source of support is former Tory voters. Ashcroft’s data samples are sufficiently large to provide a meaningful indication of the make up of current party support. The two pie charts below (as produced by PoliticalBetting.com) use his data.
Ashcroft’s latest polling indicates that ex-Tory voters are UKIP’s largest source of support (45%) and that former Labour voters (8%) are the least significant. UKIP is getting 11 votes from the Tories for every 2 votes it gets from Labour. At the same time, this is a minuscule proportion of Labour’s 2010 vote.
His polling reveals how important 2010 Lib Dem voters are to Labour. 2010 Labour voters are the core (62%), but the most important addition is from former Lib Dems (18%). Former Tory voters (4% ) are the least significant source of support for Labour.
Tory response to UKIP rise
The Tory leadership’s reaction to UKIP’s rise has been to turn to the right. A relentless racist propaganda offensive is being waged by the government. The Tories’ political strategy advisor, Lynton Crosby, says the intention is to announce new initiatives against migrants and benefit claimants on a weekly basis through to the General Election. Cameron has already conceded to the euro-sceptic agenda with his pledge for an in-out referendum on Europe should the Tories win in 2015.
Labour’s response to UKIP’s rise ought to be a resolute attack on its entire reactionary agenda, not only because it is principled to oppose racism and defend the welfare state, but it will strengthen Labour’s electoral support.
Labour needs to hold on to and increase its support on the ‘liberal’ centre-ground and also amongst ethnic minority voters. Both of these groups of voters are huge parts of Labour’s potential support in next year’s election. It can gain relatively little support transferring from the right of the political spectrum. And Labour risks losing former Lib Dem and ethnic minority support from any concessions it makes to the right’s agenda.
Disaffected former Lib Dem voters are the largest addition to Labour’s previous support. These are the voters most dismayed that the Lib Dems in government back up the Tories. For them it is important Labour demonstrably opposes Tory policies. This ‘liberal’ centre-ground in British politics is the layer of the population, in Marxist terms, of better off workers; who pay tax, are comfortably off, but see universal benefits and health care as not only their own reward for contributing to society but also a guarantee of social equilibrium. They appreciate the mixed multicultural nature of Britain’s cities and suburbs.
The support of ethnic minority voters is a determining factor in most urban parliamentary seats which Labour needs to win to gain a majority. The enthusiasm to turn out and vote obviously would be strengthened if Labour wages a fight against UKIP and Tory racism.
Capital wants the political agenda to shift rightwards, so the media claims that UKIP takes significant support away from all parties, including Labour. The right-wing within Labour goes along with this, exaggerates UKIP’s electoral threat to Labour and also insists the focus should be on winning over disaffected Tories.
The pronouncements from Labour’s front bench show a capitulation to the Tories’ assaults on immigration. Almost every anti-migrant measure proposed by the government is being conceded to. Increasingly party spokespeople ‘apologise’ that the last government was insufficiently ‘tough’ on immigration. The rhetoric is that Labour is ‘addressing legitimate concerns’. The capitulation on race issues is led by the current that called itself ‘Blue Labour’, which includes advocates of an anti-EU, nationalist, patriotic, socially conservative agenda.
Labour should be worried about UKIP, not because it can stop it coming to office next year, but because of the threat posed if a Labour government fails to deliver real improvement to living standards after 2015. UKIP’s growth of support clearly indicates the possibility of an explicitly racist, nationalist agenda advancing should Labour win the election in 2015 but its popularity then collapse.
What has happened in France with François Hollande’s government should be a salutary lesson; elected with populist policies, such as a tax rise for the rich, but with no economic policy to raise living standards. The result is the Socialist Party now trails behind the Front National in the polls.
Should a Labour or Labour-led government fail in Britain there is a similar danger of a disastrous turn to the right in politics. The left has to take responsibility for leading a serious struggle to prevent this outcome. Efforts to build the anti-racist pressure on Labour need to be stepped up. An immediate part of this campaign is to mobilise as widely as possible for the TUC backed anti-racism march on 22 March in London.
Stand up to racism & fascism
Saturday 22nd March
11am assemble at Parliament Square London
march to Trafalgar Square rally
Leaflets and posters can be downloaded from here