There has been much talk – especially since the Eastleigh by-election – about the threat posed to the Tories by UKIP. But are Farage’s Europhobes a threat to Labour? That’s the question I’ve sought to answer in the latest issue of Total Politics magazine.
On the surface, it might not seem like UKIP are much of an electoral threat to Labour – and help Labour in many cases by taking votes off the Tories. But that’s only half of the story. I’ve discovered that the party have launched a review into how to deal with UKIP, as a more comprehensive UKIP strategy is developed:
“Some within the party appear to believe so, but according to one party staffer I spoke to, there isn’t yet a countrywide UKIP strategy. Instead the way in which the party opposes UKIP varies depending on which area of the country the battle is taking place. That makes sense in some ways – in the North UKIP are merely an irritant (a party for those with Tory values but who wouldn’t be seen dead backing the party of Thatcher), whilst in the South Labour risks being pushed into 4th places in “unwinnable” seats, as happened in Eastleigh. But the lack of a more thorough engagement with the UKIP threat is clearly a source of concern in Labour HQ. In recent weeks (post-Eastleigh – but post Rotherham and Middlesbrough too) the party has begun a review into UKIP’s appeal – and what the impact might be on Labour’s prospects in 2015.”
The real threat to Labour from UKIP though isn’t electoral but political:
“This is at the crux of UKIP’s threat to Labour – not electoral but political. No-one is suggesting that Labour is ever going to be threatened either in safe or marginal seats by a UKIP surge, but the risk of continued political embarrassment at the hands of the purples is a distinct possibility. Labour supporters may wish to steel themselves and prepare for the possibility of finishing behind UKIP again not just in parliamentary elections, but also in the European elections too. YouGov’s Peter Kellner has said recently that “At next year’s European parliament elections, Ukip will probably come first.” He doesn’t say so lightly.”
What UKIP are tapping into is something incredibly potent – the anger of the supposedly apathetic. Many of who have long felt excluded from (or ignored by) the political process find in UKIP’s forceful approach something they can get behind. Labour, meanwhile, must accept that you cannot be the party who are “against the way politics is done” when you’ve been in power for 13 of the last 16 years. On that score, UKIP are a better “protest party” than Labour – and if they present a threat to Labour, that’s it…
My full report on Labour and UKIP is in the latest issue of Total Politics – available from all good newsagents ( and probably some bad ones)