‘Labour must not give up on EU’ warns shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna

Chuka Umunna warns activists that voters will be ‘watching carefully’ how party reacts to Ukip’s poll success

Labour must not yield to anti-European sentiment after Ukip’s success in last month’s elections, Chuka Umunna, the shadow Business Secretary, told a conference of Labour activists yesterday. Warning that the British electorate will be “watching carefully” to see how Labour responds to Nigel Farage’s party, Mr Umunna said: “You can pose with a pint, drink loads of beer and smoke loads of cigarettes, till you keel over, for the benefit of the cameras, but that does not mean you have the solutions.”

Despite accusing Mr Farage of “maliciously” distorting the immigration debate by offering “easy explanations to complex causes”, Mr Umunna – tipped as a future Labour leader – said his party had to “respect the result” and that concerns thrown up by last week’s vote could not be ignored.

Mr Umunna was speaking to activists at the annual conference of the Progress think-tank, which broadly represents a Blairite and right-leaning stance inside Labour.

The Progress conference at the TUC’s London headquarters was the first opportunity for party activists, MPs and shadow ministers to discuss the implications of last month’s local and European Parliament elections for Ed Miliband’s chances of winning next year’s general election.

Although citing voter apathy and low turnout as contributing factors, the shadow Business Secretary said Mr Farage had used voter “uncertainty” over jobs and the economy.

He told the conference: “That’s why Ukip topped the poll. Like all history’s successful ideologues,  [Ukip] tapped into that feeling of being out of control, and have given people an easy explanation for something and someone to blame.”

But he insisted that Europe “isn’t the main problem”. “If we give up on it, our consequent reduced influence on the world stage – economically and politically – will become a very big problem. If we work at it, it can be part of the solution to problems I’ve described,” he said.

Mr Umunna said Labour should take no comfort in the virtual wipeout of the Liberal Democrats, who lost all but one of their MEPs last week. “The easy thing would be to rejoice in the Lib Dems’ discomfort at being the biggest losers.” The shadow Business Secretary added that it would also be a mistake to focus too much on the attempted coup to remove Nick Clegg as Lib Dem leader. “The people we represent could not care less about Matthew Oakeshott [the peer who commissioned private polls in key Lib Dem constituencies], and the ups and downs of the Westminster soap opera.”

Progress’s honorary president, Stephen Twigg, the former Education minister, also warned the conference that Ukip “cannot be dismissed as a flash in the pan”. The “simplistic, tub-thumping approach” of Nigel Farage had an appeal, he said, but the next election would “ultimately be between Conservative and progressive politics”.

That may be more hope than reality. A new ComRes poll this weekend has forecast that nine in 10 of the four million voters who backed Ukip and its anti-EU message could vote the same way in the general election scheduled for next May.

After the last EU elections in 2009, where Ukip recorded 16.5 per cent of the vote, its support fell to just 3 per cent at the 2010 general election. But if the new ComRes poll is even broadly accurate, the emergence of a four-party system in UK politics would be established and likely to shatter current forecasts of who can win next year.

Caroline Flint, the shadow Energy Secretary, tried to lift the mood of the Progress activists, telling them the results of last week showed Labour “close” to winning a mandate next year.

She added that Labour faced a “critical 12 months” ahead and claimed that the Conservatives had lost votes in “key marginals”. She said the “gloom” supposed to have descended over Labour in recent media headlines was “wrong”. Backing the promise offered by Mr Umunna, she said Labour would “not mimic Ukip” on immigration and would “do what is right, not what’s popular”.

Given the emerging question marks over Ed Miliband’s leadership, and the party-wide criticism over Labour’s strategy in countering the Ukip vote, the decision by Progress to invite the pollster Peter Kellner to address the conference was a brave one. And what he told them was uncomfortable.

Mr Kellner, president of the YouGov polling organisation, said Ed Miliband could not win a mandate unless “big changes” were made.

He told the conference: “Voters do not believe Ed Miliband is up to the job of being the prime minister. He is seen as not being strong. And Labour is still behind the Tories on economic competence.”

His comments, along with others on Labour’s “lack of a compelling narrative”, were met with substantial applause from the conference floor.

The new chair of Progress, John Woodcock MP, was asked by The Independent on Sunday if he would like to test agreement with Mr Kellner’s comment by a show of hands. He declined.

Chuka Umunna, Shadow Business Secretary:

With a deliberate and maliciously distorted analysis of immigrants and our sovereignty, [Ukip] have made Europe and immigration the problem. They have capitalised on people’s increasing distrust of politics and other institutions by claiming they are a force against the establishment.

Caroline Flint, Shadow Energy Secretary:

For the 2015 general election, the old ‘swingometer’ has gone… Four-party politics is now in play.

Peter Kellner, YouGov:

Ed Miliband has to persuade [the electorate] that he is up to the job of being prime minister.

Lord Wood, Shadow minister without portfolio and policy adviser to Ed Miliband:

There is huge concern about quality [of public services] in the UK. The answer is not just about turning on the spending tap.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital