Does Labour have a plan to deal with the UKIP surge?

29th May, 2013 10:41 am

For so long it was taken as gospel in Westminster that the better UKIP performed, the worse for the Tories and the better for Labour. Yet the (phone) polling since January suggests otherwise. Whilst Labour’s position in online polls – I’m thinking of YouGov in particular – has been strong, consistent and positive, in phone polls there has been a significant decline in the party’s position since the turn of the year – see this chart from Political Betting:

phone pollster average

And the recipient? It looks like it’s UKIP.

We appear, as we head into the final two years of the parliament, to have crossed the tipping point beyond which UKIP start taking more of their support from Labour than the Tories. It is a position few – myself included – ever thought we’d be in.

Back in April I wrote a piece for Total Politics, arguing that UKIP are a political problem for Labour rather than an electoral one, and that there had been “barely been a ripple of concern in the Labour Party” at the purple rise. But that was before the local government earthquake earlier this month. But even before then the party had begun to plan for the UKIP surge. As I wrote back in April:

“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.”

That begs the question of course – how is this review progressing? What has it found? Has Labour’s messaging changed to take into account UKIP’s potency? Because if it has, then this wasn’t reflected in the County Council elections. In many parts of the country where Labour might not have expected to win, but hoped to improve vote share, anything we achieved was dwarfed by the UKIP surge.

For what it’s worth, I still don’t think UKIP will either cost Labour a majority or provide us with an easy route back to power – that will either be a result of Tory success or our failure – but it would be wrong to continue viewing UKIP’s poll success as without problems for Labour. Ed Miliband has put stock in his ability to win over non-voters, yet at present they seem to be drawn at least as much by Farage’s no-nonsense, ebullient nationalism as Ed Miliband’s One Nation-ism.

If Labour wants to not only win the election, but also win a decisive victory, then winning a larger percentage of non-voters and other wooed by UKIP will be necessary. As John Denham wrote here a few weeks ago:

“most of the UKIP voters I have met are people I would like my Labour Party to attract and represent.”

Labour need to be mindful of that. But what’s the plan to achieve it? It’s not clear yet that there is one.

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  • James

    Spot On Mark – Labour needs to start worrying about the European elections and the potential tie-in with the local elections (with Labour’s vote share in lower tier councils at greater risk).

    It seems to easy that someone who’s taken a punt and voted UKIP in the Europeans can easily just replicate it in locals now…

    And that way leads to a UKIP MP(s) in 2015…

  • Mike Homfray

    I don’t think we know enough about where the UKIUP vote is coming from Labour. I am sure there will be geographical differences. the county elections suggested it was mostly areas we are not strong in

    I think we need to stress the Thatcherite economic policies of UKIP and the things they support which voters in the heartlands certainly don’t.

  • I am a VERY strong supporter of the EU. As a historian I recognise 70 years (with some outbreaks of violence) of peace as a wonderful achievement.

    But Labour should call for an in-out referendum SOON (so it gets the credit). We would be stupid to leave the EU, but I am pretty sure the campaign would go as in 1975 (which, since I am 52 now I can still recall), and we would stay in. Business and the City of London will fund the campaign to stay in.

    Ed needs to take the chance, and take the lead.

    • I agree with Paul Halsall. I believe that the Labour party’s current stance on an EU referendum is, in the long run, intellectually unsustainable, and that Labour should come out in favour of an in/out referendum.
      I would campaign to stay ‘in’, and I believe an ‘in’ vote would ultimately be successful.

    • I said the same thing months ago – would have got a lot more credit then.

    • LeeMatthews

      Even without the EU there would have been peace as most of the countries joined NATO just after the war, with Germany joining in ’55.

  • Charlie_Mansell

    Generally the assumption from polling is compared to 2010 UKIP
    taking 7 Tory votes for every 2 Labour. Where Lib Dems are also strong
    the comparison is around 4 Lib Dem votes, so this gives you the change
    by ratio of 2010 votes

    HOWEVER this misses one crucial thing: that Labour had dropped by 13% between 1997 and 2010, so a lot of those ‘former Tory’ UKIP voters were actually Labour voters in 1997 and 2001. Thus the UKIP vote is more evenly balanced than people think depending on how you poll their past voting record. These are classic floating protest voters who did vote Lib Dem when they were not in government.

    This type of voter may have voted Lab 19997, Lab or abstain 2001,
    Tory or abstain 2005, Tory 2010 Ukip 2013. Thus the Tories and us are making a
    big mistake of thinking them as core Tory voters. They are people who
    dislike modernity and are ‘sceptics’ on many issues and not just Europe
    as this shows
    and this on MMR

    UKIP appeal reaches out to people who do not trust politicians or
    politics as usual, are sceptical with mainstream politics and show fear
    distrust and pessimism towards change. This means they will be resistant
    to an optimistic change message as it does not accord to the world
    around them. For them home, family and work are the reality. We need to literally ‘think inside the box’ to picture people’s daily lives that is not like that of the average Labour activist, whose networks may well be much bigger and more self-selectedly cosmopolitan.

    As the DEREX indicators shows
    they are looking to people with simple answers to complex questions.
    Authoritarian leadership and a plebiscitory approach to making decisions
    would appeal to them.

    It is worth reading some of the Tory coverage on their crisis as it is further ahead than Labour analysis

    The Spectator – The UKIP Lettuce belt
    This was a telling comment that many white working class
    workers don’t want to work in industries where they would now be a
    minority, so that we have reinforced self-selecting segregation:

    ‘No mate, I’d prefer to sign-on than do that. I don’t want to work in
    like no cornfield. I don’t want to work with a load of foreigners.’

    The Daily Telegraph – We’re giving someone else a chance.”

    “Foreigners drinking vodka all day,” she says. “Our grandchildren will be in
    cardboard boxes, living on the street if this carries on.”

    UKIP voters look back approvingly to a mythical past which is real to them
    which had this quote:

    “All the main parties have cause to be anxious about Ukip and so all have been trying to understand the rise of the Farageists. One way they do this is to put together focus groups of voters who have switched to Ukip to try to fathom why these people are attracted to Nigel Farage’s gang. One senior party strategist says he listened in some wonderment as his focus group of Ukip voters spent an entire 90-minute session wailing and gnashing their teeth about the state of Britain. Not a good word did they have to say about the country today. At the end of the session, he thanked them for their time, and said he had one more question. Was there anything about Britain that made them feel proud? There was a silence. Then one man leant forward and said: “The past.” The rest of the group nodded in agreement”

    How do we respond?

    Not through lots of rational mythbusting factoids to tell angry and fearful people looking back to the past they are ‘wrong’ for a start. That will just reinforce the problem. Barking and Dagenham tried ‘mythbusting in 2006 until they realised you needed a lot of stages in between:

    John Mann MP recently wrote about how to respond and made some very good points
    – there are neighbour clusters of UKIP voters- one neighbour persuading the others
    – Areas with a popular local pub are more likely to vote UKIP

    However those points need follow up and also require:

    1. Some simple holding messages around “you can say what you really think, Labour will be listening” Ed’s conversation here is a start but MUCH MORE IMPORTANT was that people could SEE that the voter was being allowed to express his view before it was disagreed with. People often want to get things off their chest, but don’t feel they have the chance. We need much more of this approach.

    2. More research in terms of Mosaic and values analysis to break down UKIP voters into communicable segments

    3. Understand what are UKIP values and which of those values are actually congruent with Labour values as some will be. John Denham makes a very good go of it here:

    4. Social network mapping to understand how these far right views spread as well as
    training in how to engage with UKIP leaning voters.

    5. Identifying authentic influencer/endorsers in the community who can engage with people locally on the issues that attract people to UKIP

    6. Ensuring programmes such as community organising activity reach out to safety and security driven white working class and UKIP voters as well as to the more outer directed segments that do tend to be attracted to that type of activity

    • JohnPReid

      Very true , but the idea of either party getting even 12 million votes again won’t happen for he next 10 years

    • Redshift1

      Very much overlooked but crucial point!

      Perhaps more worrying for us as a party is the UKIP vote creeping into the conciousness of council estates that in most areas in this kind of political climate either vote for us or don’t vote at all. This is a problem that is new to us since we came into opposition – when we were in power we were challenged by the Lib Dems and the BNP in particular areas although it often took us a while to catch on to it!

      We cannot make the mistake of neglecting our vote in these kinds of areas where there is a certain attraction to ‘anti-political’ narratives. We need to work them hard if we want them to turn out and turn out for us. Additionally, they are often places that do vote ‘as an estate’, word gets around, a few people tell their mates what they’re doing – they certainly don’t have metropolitan individualism when it comes to their vote.

      And before I get shot down – this isn’t an argument for a ‘core vote’ strategy nationally. You get council estates and pockets of low income demographics all over the place. It could be a marginal constituency. It could be a Labour safe seat or Tory safe seat.

      I personally think we need to look at using the European elections where we have no geographical focus for our work to work these areas that often get neglected (often because as a council ward or whatever it might be a safe seat). The caveat to that however is that we categorically DO NOT make it about a pro-European vs anti-European debate but about engagement. The arguments we can deploy RE Europe should be that Labour stands up for job creation; UKIP and Tories want to take away sick pay, holiday pay, etc. UKIP – and it’s not surprising when both are mostly funding by City fatcats; The Tories screwed over British manufacturing over Bombardier but stood up for the banks rather than allow a Robin Hood Tax; UKIP MEPs take all their allowances but never turn up to meetings, etc…..I think I’ve just created a literature schedule for Jan to May in my area in 2014…..

  • eastender

    The obvious question is why the difference between the online polls and the phone ones? There has to be something in the methodology to account for the difference, which is right and which is wrong we wont know until the GE (assuming the disparity in the polls still exists then). Looking at the details of the YouGov polls it is clear that there has been a decline in the level of Labour support over the past few months from the 42% – 44% level to 38% – 40% on these polls not that dissimilar to the figures for the phone polls shown on political betting. If I had to guess I would suggest this is down to the way YouGov use past vote weighting whereas some of the other use likelihood to vote as the main way of weighting their panels.

    • Quiet_Sceptic

      Doesn’t the fact that it is an online poll by itself introduce some natural filtering of who will and who won’t be answering those polls. Use of the internet does have some linkage to things like education, income, age.

      The telephone is ubiquitous and likely to include groups excluded by an online poll?

      Perhaps they don’t adequately compensate for any biasing introduced by the media they use.

  • JohnPReid

    What do they support strong law and order and defence policies,transport policies

    • AlanGiles

      As your response is somewhat ambiguous, it is difficult to know if you approve of their message of ” strong law and order and defence policies,transport policies”

      My reading is that you do.

      Surely if you feel UKIP, or any other party supports your own views better than you current one, you owe it to yourself – and those you currently represent – to leave Labour and join that party?.

      I am sure on the very narrow subject of being “anti-EU” quite a lot of Labour supporters would concur with them, but I doubt that some of their more right wing stances in other areas would resonate with the ordinary Labour voter

  • WelshLabourGrassroot
  • Marga

    If Scotland says yes in their referendum, the EU referendum result may change because most of the support for the European Project comes from Scotland. And too many European countries will be very happy having England out and Scotland in.

  • Monkey_Bach

    It seems incredibly naive to me to suppose that simply promising an EU referendum, at some point in the future, would neuter UKIP’s temporary popularity . As far as I can see something beyond the European issue is going on here, albeit under a veil. I believe that much of the UKIP surge (if you want to put it that way) is explicable by large scale disenchantment amongst the grassroots with all three main political parties be they Conservative (nasty, cold, and cruel), Labour (dilute faux Tory), and the Liberal Democrats (inevitable patsies to some kind of Tory, real or faux). Many people supposedly supporting UKIP are basically, temporarily, saying that they’ve chosen to exercise a “non of the above” option as far as the other parties go and hinting that perhaps an unknown political quantity might actually be preferable to other established quantities all too well known to inspire much trust or enthusiasm amongst the electorate anymore.

    Toeing the line, going with the flow, and promising a referendum now won’t change this situation for the better; it will probably will only make Ed Miliband look weaker, even less of a leader, and even more a hostage to fortune than usual.


    • Quiet_Sceptic

      Your critique of the main parties suggests they are all too right-wing, if that’s the case why would voters switch to UKIP? It isn’t left wing.

      I think the opposite is the case, on issues like the EU and immigration some voters regard all the mainstream parties as being too Left-wing, unwilling to take any real action and they are attracted by the unequivocal line that UKIP takes on those issues.

      • Redshift1

        Most voters like someone who stands up for something. Most voters don’t know UKIP’s policies just a sense of patiotism to their narrative.

        Labour needs to talk to people to defeat UKIP. UKIP’s biggest weakness is grassroots organisation. If people see us as ‘on their side’ they won’t look at UKIP, but unfortunately only a fraction of our local parties are where they should be campaign-wise.

      • Monkey_Bach

        UKIP is an untested novelty, politically speaking. The party, if such it can be called, has no past record of wrongdoing because, to date, it hasn’t helped make any laws or done anything whatsoever for good or ill. To me UKIP looks like an atavism escaped from the 1950s, harking back to an age that was socially and economically much more stable and, I suppose, more comforting to certain angry or fearful sections of the public as a result. I don’t find it in the least bit odd that people are drawn to right-wing parties when their country has been economically convulsed any more than I find it odd that a picked on child would try to make friends with a bully. Throughout history this seems to be what people do collectively when under enormous stress. Uninhibited right-wingers like religious zealots express little to no self-doubt and can appear strong and decisive as a consequence. Such people usually whip up fear of the other and offering a menu of preposterously simple solutions to a huge variety of immensely complicated problems, real and imagined, which worry people for all sorts of reasons.

        Keep out the foreigners: regain our sovereignty: stop having people abroad from telling us what we can do here: faith, flag, family: no gain without pain: we’ll show the world what we’re made of.

        You can see simplistic attitudes like this proliferating across Europe.

        In the past worse circumstances allowed simpletons and lunatics like Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini to grab power during crises and subvert the cultures of formerly civilised European nations. But at least these extreme right-wing nationalists did manage to make the trains in their countries run on time!


      • Alex Otley

        The EU is neither left wing nor right wing. The centre-right love it because it is good for business. The centre-left love it because it enshrines some leftist policies. The hard left think it’s a bosses club and the hard right are nationalist.

        • Quiet_Sceptic

          Well I think their policies on immigration would be considered right wing.

    • Daniel Speight

      I’m sure you are right about it not being just a European Union problem Monkey. It looks very much as if a large proportion of the public just doesn’t like our modern politicians very much, and Labour isn’t outside that frame at all.

      I have said it all before and I’m probably getting boring about it by now, but which part of the public do youngish middle class ex-Spads, ex-bag carrier, ex-Oxbridge, even ex-public school, Westminster village residents see as being associated with. In the opposite direction the only part of the public I suspect that would identify with them are the media luvvies and assorted highly paid civil servants and quango members.

      When you see MPs failing to answer a straight question with a straight answer, and see more clones pouring into politics, why would an ordinary person give our political class the time of day. Now with UKIP if you don’t look too closely their candidates sometimes look just like the pub bore, or guy next door who is always having a moan. This must come over far better than our own PLP members which shows just how low it has got.

  • Redshift1

    Before we accept this blindly, worth noting Spain (amongst others) won’t be too impressed by this idea because it would have all sorts of implications on Catalonia, the Basque country, etc

  • Pingback: Evening Briefing: Boris, Vince, and immigration – Telegraph Blogs()

  • robertcp

    The UKIP surge should concern all of the mainstream parties. It is a symptom of the two party system of Labour and the Conservatives no longer being adequate to represent the views of voters. This has actually been the case since 1974 but it was hidden by FPTP.

  • Chatterclass

    Labour are almost completely absent from the debate. Any debate. It is no wonder the party is starting to lose voter share. They appear to have no policies and no ideas. Now, I do tell people on the doorstep, Labour are working on their policies etc etc. but honestly, I wish someone would shake the leadership out of their stupor! The campaign has started. The coalition might not even last until 2015. Where are you?!

  • John Reid

    Actually I didn’t agree with them ,don’t drive,so no that bothered about roads, am A unilateralist, have you got an address for your local green party rep, its not far from where we live, but my comment wasn’t about what I agree with, it was what ex labour voters who vote Ukip agree with, and I was suggesting to Mike that there are labour voters who would vote Ukip unless we gave them a referendum on Europe

  • JohnPReid

    My reply wasn’t about whether I agreed with things Ex labour voters who’ve gone over to ukip or not think, that wasn’t the point of this article, my point was that if we turn our back on policies that have every right to be included in a labour manifesto, then why wouldn’t traditional labour voters feel Ukip is better for them,

    • AlanGiles

      I suppose it depends on whether you believe in taking a principled stand on what you believe, or, whether, if you so are desperate to attain “power”, at any price you are prepared to pander to any group of people who make enough noise. Quite a large vocal minority would like to see the restitution of the death penalty. Would you be prepared to go that far and give in to them?

      In other words implement the policies of other parties under the “Labour” banner.

      I would suggest that this right-wing attitude hasn’t done a great deal for Labour locally where all but five councillors belong to other parties.

  • aileen cheetham

    I feel threatend about the Immigrants due to flood in here.


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