Why do working class people vote UKIP?
Let’s flip it around for a moment: why do relatively well-off people vote for or support Labour or the Greens? The answer is obvious of course – people aren’t always politically motivated by financial interests. Sometimes their motivations are altruistic or driven by gut feeling that could be as trivial as liking the look of a candidate or whether they come across as honest. We may wish people made decisions merely on policies but they don’t.
This is worth remembering because it applies to UKIP sympathisers perhaps more than any other key group of British voters.
UKIP supporters are older, not that well-off and usually suffer from financial insecurity. YouGov polling shows UKIP have had little success in reaching better-off Britons, graduates and those under 40. These are people hurt by growing inequality and have become disillusioned with the political system.
But it is futile of Ed Miliband to reach out to them by criticising UKIP as “more Thatcherite than Thatcher“, mostly because it pushes the wrong buttons.
I suspect UKIP supporters liked Thatcher, despite her free-market policies, because to them she represented an era when Britain was much more self-confident and their world was much more secure. Even Nigel Farage said a young Margaret Thatcher would now more likely join UKIP than the Tories. If she is the dream leader for a nostalgic UKIP voter who harks back to the past, why would they be turned off by hearing her name?
The insecure world of UKIP supporters may be driven by financial insecurity but they are a culturally conservative bunch. They dislike political correctness, modern liberalism, globalisation and international institutions: especially the EU. Support for Nigel Farage (and even Jeremy Clarkson) is much more a cultural backlash than merely about financial insecurity.
Miliband is right when he says Farage’s party “promises higher taxes for working families and huge giveaways for the rich”, but that’s not what UKIP supporters are listening out for. They care more about whether Ed Miliband sounds like the guy who wants to make Britain ‘great’ again. They want to know if he has the country’s interests at heart. Instead they see, like Cameron, a metropolitan liberal who is part of the establishment they despise.
I hate to be harsh but the polling bears this out: Labour is bleeding support to UKIP (less than the Tories, obviously) not vice versa. Labour’s message is still aimed at a Labour audience rather than a UKIP audience.
This doesn’t mean a simplistic and futile promise to be “tough on immigration”. UKIP sympathisers just won’t find such a promise credible, eroding trust even further.
This is where Jon Cruddas is right: UKIP is the party of of the disenfranchised English. They feel powerless about the change taking place in the world around them and they’re lashing out. Redistributing power back to them will help and its a good idea in its own right. But Ed Miliband has to step out of his comfort zone and go further: he has to articulate a sense of progressive nationalism too.
Miliband has to scratch UKIP voters in areas where policy is irrelevant; to make a pitch that is more emotional than rational. He has to illustrate that he doesn’t just passionately care about England and its future, but will bring back some of the self confidence that Thatcher exuded (minus the policies). He has to make them feel secure about the future, and that isn’t merely about policy but about his vision for the future of our country.
Ed Miliband doesn’t lack intellectual self-confidence, we know this already. But to win over UKIP voters he has to demonstrate something far more difficult: a sense of emotional self-confidence. Only then can he start to win over UKIP supporters.