The UKIP surge is not all about Europe – and a referendum is not the solution

January 21, 2013 12:20 pm
While some Labourites might be celebrating the Tories’ discomfort over Europe, Labour must learn some lessons too. Lord Ashcroft’s research on UKIP considerers reveals that almost a quarter of those currently considering UKIP voted Labour in 2010. UKIP’s support is underpinned by a strong showing amongst C1s and C2s, the very groups which drag down Labour’s vote – workers towards the bottom end of the pay scale, struggling to get by with increased living costs, while a difficult business climate and redundancy continue to threaten. What Ashcroft has usefully revealed is that Europe is not the top concern amongst potential UKIP voters: only  a quarter of UKIP considerers put Britain’s relationship with the EU as one of the top three issues facing Britain, and only 7% put it top. The biggest issues are economic growth, welfare, immigration and the deficit.
Ashcroft’s message to the Tories is this: don’t think that a referendum is the answer to the UKIP surge. It isn’t, because that’s not really the problem. Only hardcore UKIP supporters who were already voting that way before the current upswing are concerned above all else with Britain’s relationship in Europe. UKIP considerers are pessimistic, see Britain as getting worse over time, and are attracted by UKIP’s promise of an easy answer that will solve everything. Concerns about money going to Europe, and into international aid, are pieces of the picture they have built up of a political elite which does not share their values.  The biggest area of disconnect is immigration, where UKIP’s policy attracts much higher support than its policy of leaving the EU. Let’s not tear ourselves apart on Europe, Ashcroft is saying to the Conservatives. Get it right on immigration, welfare and the economy, and the rest will follow.
So what would the message be to Labour? On a referendum, the same: if it won’t help the Conservatives, it won’t help us either. One interesting nugget in Ashcroft’s research is that UKIP considerers don’t see UKIP as the best people to defend Britain’s interests in Europe. There is an awareness that voting UKIP is a protest vote to send a message rather than a vote for a party that can actually act in their interests. Cameron’s use of the veto, ill-advised though it was, brought support for a British exit down from above 50% to 41%, according to YouGov research quoted by John Curtice, while support for remaining in the EU increased from 31% up to a level 41%. If people see evidence of British politicians actively fighting for British interests in Europe, they are more likely to accept the idea of Britain remaining within it.
By promoting British interests actively in Europe, Labour can secure better terms for British businesses and push for reform where it’s needed. Douglas Alexander was clear what reforms Labour has in mind in his Chatham House speech, given the day before Cameron was scheduled to deliver his speech in Amsterdam: tighter transitional arrangements around free movement of labour, more budgetary restraint, and reform of structural funding and the CAP are all part of it.
But since Europe in voters’ minds is not an issue separate from all others, talking about Europe will not work in isolation: we need to demonstrate that we understand broader concerns about immigration and welfare, accept where we went wrong in power, and have solid plans for what we would do to restrict abuses in both these areas. And as for the economy, the message is the same for Europe as it is for Britain: austerity isn’t working. We need a plan for jobs and growth, as much in the EU as nationally, and the reason why things have not gone well is because Europe’s leaders have not delivered this plan.
Ashcroft advises his party not to worry too much about a UKIP rout in the 2014 European elections. Our attitude must be different. In opposition, our job is to gain support step by step at every opportunity between now and 2015. The more votes we win in 2014, the more we will win in 2015, and those currently considering UKIP include exactly the kinds of voters whose support we need for a victory at Westminster.
  • Francis Gerald Allen

    This polling/research by Ashcroft needs to be given plenty of attention by Labour. For me personally, and maybe for most othe rmembers/supporters of Labour and the broader Labour movement, my knowledge of U.K.I.P. is the perssona of cheeky chappie Nigel Farrage, with a smile and a piint in his hand. When you peel away the smile and the pint, what’s revealed ala his appearances on such as Question time etc and take his messianic ranting over the E.U. is a very reactionary set of statements(exactly what you would expect of somebody who made something like £25m.+ and then took early retirement from the City/Banking industry, also the only other U.K.I.P. spokesperson that I have ever come across, again on Question Time is the President/Chairman and he comes over as a big as a reactionary as Farrage. So therefore the only conclusion that I can ever come to about U.K.I.P. is that they are the Little Englanders we have always thought them to be and as such they are even bigger austerity cheerleaders deficit cutters, public service slashers than Cameron,Clegg or the rest of the Coalition class warriors will ever be. What is neede is some sort of campaign to expose the true reactionary nature of U.K.I.P.

  • Ian Young

    “The biggest area of disconnect is immigration, where UKIP’s policy attracts much higher support than its policy of leaving the EU. ”

    I think that is spot on and noticed the free-market minded Nigel Farage on Question Time in Lincolnshire last week opportunistically making the point that the immigrant influx is down to a bosses’s free-for-all to ratchet down wage levels rather than resorting to crude dog whistle racism.

    Immigration is not a big issue among workers that are still fortunate enough to have kept strong collective bargaining agreements (in which EU migrant and British workers have equal T&Cs) and/or have industry training councils that encourage an influx of locally trained apprentices (as its not the Polish government’s responsibility to skill up the UK workforce).

    Labour’s acceptance of Thatcher’s anti-trade union laws and labour market deregulation in the 90s and its refusal to join other European (and pro EU) social democratic parties in opposing the Bolkerstein Directive no longer plays with the C2 and C1 groups that deserted Labour in the 80s.

    Witness Peter Mandelson’s patronising remarks in 2009 about power workers being xenophobic when Unite organised their members against wholesale contract worker dumping from Italy.

    I do not relish the prospect of canvassing in the next general election to defend a policy on labour and trade union rights that is to the right of a repositioned UKIP, that has been learning a few tricks from Alex Salmon.

  • Tracey Hill

    UKIP are certainly little Englanders – actually the party name is incorrect – they should be called “ENGIP” as most of their support is in England. I agree exposing them is good, although the Ashcroft research did show that UKIP considerers did not respond well to negative comments about the UKIP leadership. Maybe that’s always the case when political parties are negative about each other, which they clearly have to be sometimes. It’s not the whole story though – if we’re negative about UKIP and don’t have anything to say about the issues that underly UKIP support such as the economy and immigration/welfare/capacity and affordability of public services, we will be seen to be dodging the real questions.

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