A senior Labour MP has warned that the party is losing its working class supporters to Ukip because it is run by an out-of-touch “elite” that does not understand them.
Frank Field, the former Welfare Reform Minister, accused Ed Miliband of making the same mistake as Tony Blair by taking the party’s traditional voters for granted on the grounds that they had “nowhere else to go.” He said many of the 5m supporters Labour has lost since 1997 have now moved from being non-voting and “politically homeless” to backing Ukip.
In a strong criticism of Mr Miliband, Mr Field says: “A sizeable part of ex-Labour voters have been repelled by the policies promoted by a largely non-working class party elite with whom these ex-voters find it difficult to sympathise and vice-versa.”
The Birkenhead MP’s attack comes in a chapter, seen by The Independent, of a book - Blue Labour: Forging a New Politics - to be published next February. Blue Labour is a group within the party which aims to win back working class voters with an appeal based on “faith, family and flag”.
It comes amid growing concern among Labour MPs about the threat to the party from Ukip after it ran Labour close in this month’s Heywood and Middleton by-election. Some Labour figures fear that traditional Labour supporters who backed Nigel Farage’s party at this year’s European elections will stick with it at the general election next May. “It is not a one-off protest any more,” one frontbencher said.
Mr Field writes that the decline in the Labour vote - from 13.5m in 1997 to 8.6m in 2010 - has not been driven solely by “economic alienation” but by “cultural and ethical” forces. He believes Labour has lost touch with the values of its core vote.
He calls on Labour to outflank David Cameron by committing itself to ending the free movement of Labour within the EU, which he believes would galvanise the party’s lost voters as it would fit with their idea of a “good society”.
He warns: “Without a fundamental control of the borders there is nothing to prevent another 7m immigrants coming to Britain during the next decade and a half, to match the 7m who have entered the country since 1997.”
Mr Field also urges the Labour leadership to turn its “something for something” soundbite about the benefits system into firm policy, and to pledge to build 300,000 social houses a year.
Mr Field says Labour’s lost voters “do not see Labour as being committed to the flag – being proud of the country, or having a clear stand-in defending the country’s borders – soft on immigration, or in promoting a welfare state where rewards have to be earned – not catering largely for the freewheelers, rather than hardworking families”.
He adds: “They witness a Labour Party that all too often stands for a distribution of public services that they find repulsive: a housing allocation system that favours the newcomer and the social misfit over good behaviour over decades. They witness a leadership that never expresses the anger they feel as the world they stand for is mocked and denigrated by hoodlums for whom official Labour always seems to have an understanding word.”
Labour aides said Mr Field’s views on immigration were “well known”. They denied the Labour leadership was complacent about Ukip but said it would not ape it. They insisted that Labour was not out of touch with the public or pursuing a “core vote” strategy, saying that its One Nation approach focused on issues such as the NHS which united all social groups.
Blue-blood Labour: How posh is the shadow Cabinet?
Some 22 per cent of Ed Miliband’s shadow Cabinet were educated at private schools, according to the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, the Government’s watchdog.
But Labour officials point out that the proportion is lower than in David Cameron’s Cabinet, 36 per cent of whom were privately educated. Some 33 per cent of the Shadow Cabinet went to Oxford or Cambridge University, compared to 59 per cent of the Cabinet.
Another survey found that only four per cent of Labour MPs have manual worker backgrounds, while 80 per cent come from professional occupations.
Harriet Harman, Labour’s deputy leader, was educated at St Paul’s School, London. Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor, was educated at a private all-boys school, Nottingham High, while Chuka Umunna, the shadow Business Secretary, went to St. Dunstan's College in Catford, London.
Tristram Hunt, the shadow Education Secretary, was educated at University College School in North London. This month he was accused of hypocrisy by the Eton-educated David Cameron, who claimed he wanted to deny children “the benefit of world-class teachers” because he opposed charities and parents being allowed to set up schools. Mr Hunt replied by calling Mr Cameron “a low-rent PR man”.
Hilary Benn, the shadow Communities Secretary, went to a private prep school, Westminster Under, before attending Holland Park Comprehensive.Reuse content