Appeasing the unappeasable..? July 17, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics.
There’s an interesting contradiction, or near contradiction, in part of the analysis in this article here from a few weeks back on the threat UKIP poses to the British Labour Party by Matthew Goodwin and Caitlin Milazzo. They note that a tranche of LP support has gone to UKIP, mostly ‘older, poorly educated white pensioners who hold a very different outlook from Labour MPs or thinktankers.’
And they suggest that:
While Labour took too long to acknowledge Ukip’s potential, it is now failing to understand its appeal. Most think they can halt Ukip by talking about the cost of living, protecting public services like the NHS, defending the economic interests of blue-collar Britons and talking in vague and abstract ways about devolving power or rebuilding institutions.
And they continue:
Such a response is not surprising; it is rooted in the old Marxist belief that support for nationalist parties is driven by economic insecurity, and encouraged by capitalists who would prefer ethnic over class conflict. But this is not a long-term strategy and nor is it supported by actual evidence.
I think that’s a bit of an overstatement (and of the supposed ‘old Marxist belief’ too), but we can let it pass.
First, by the time Ukip arrives in Doncaster for its conference in September its policy review will most likely have neutralised these lines of attack by modifying its stance on issues such as the NHS. Moreover, targeting the healthcare policies of a party that spends all its time talking about migration and Europe just appears odd. Second, this economically focused narrative does not hold up when we look at the Labour voters who actually left Labour for Ukip last month, and who are thinking of doing so again in 2015.
It’s difficult too to evaluate the threat this suppose voting bloc presents. The authors suggest that:
The good news for Labour is that only a small number of its 2010 voters actually switched to Ukip in 2014 (about one in 10). But focusing only on this misses a fundamental longer term trend. There are now lots of angry, old white voters in Britain and Ed Miliband’s Labour is no longer their preferred destination. Between 2005 and 2013 Labour support among white working-class pensioners slumped from 45% to just 26%. In the same period, Ukip support among this group surged almost tenfold, from 3% to 28%.
I hesitate to say this, but surely longer term demographic changes may come into effect in relation to this ameliorating this problem, should it even be a problem?
But then they say:
But as the chart below shows, [older, poorly educated white pensioners ] were not driven to Ukip by the NHS or cost of living. Foremost, it is immigration and European integration that dominate the minds of voters who switched from Labour to Ukip at the European elections (yellow), and especially those who intend to now stay with Ukip (black). These Labour deserters are also more likely to think that important social changes such as giving equal opportunities to ethnic minorities and same-sex couples have gone too far. In short, those who have left or who are thinking of leaving Labour for Ukip don’t like modern Britain for social and cultural reasons – not economic.
Hold on though. Even if correct it is difficult to see how the LP could address those ‘social and cultural – not economic’ reasons, though frankly ‘equal opportunities’ in and of itself contains myriad economic aspects, as indeed does immigration and integration. It seems unlikely that the LP could, or would, resile from equal opportunities from ethnic minorities or same-sex couples. And it’s worth noting that it was the Tory-led Coalition that finally legalised same-sex marriage (though, granted, with LP support). Are those measures to be abolished? Wrong to do so, obviously, and hardly likely, and that would merely come into conflict with those voters, a much larger number (according to the stats below), who either agree or have little enough problem with those approaches.
So what exactly would the authors recommend? They don’t say.
Simply talking about economic issues will not win these angry old white voters back, in the same way that social democrats across Europe talking only about the economic benefits of migration or European integration have not neutralised the radical right. While Labour has now finally recognised the challenge that Ukip represents, it must now devote serious effort to making sense of the underlying causes.
That’s not entirely helpful, now is it? There are genuine and real concerns about the changing nature of society – that’s an inevitable aspect of change, but, at the same time, change is inevitable in any case. There is a necessity to explain and bring people with progressive projects. But there’s also a point, I think where, when it’s clear that people aren’t coming along that excessive energy isn’t expended on attempting to persuade them further. I’m curious as to what others think about ways forward on this.
By the way whether this poses an existential threat to the LP further down the line is interesting, but I’m unconvinced. The article talks of UKIP members thinking about the election after next and that all sounds great until one attempts to see where UKIP can win seats at the next election, and truth is there aren’t many places. I’m reminded of something Michael White of the Guardian said on a recent Guardian politics podcast which was that UKIP isn’t so much a party as a campaign. That’s a very useful insight into the true nature of that organisation and it tells us much about its strengths and its weaknesses as well as its potential and actual appeal.