Owen Jones: Beware the Ukip beast of the North

There is a chasm between Ukip leaders and their voters

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Watch out, Northerners, Ukip is coming! As its purple-rosetted canvassers descend on Wythenshawe – just down the road from where I grew up – we’re getting more insight into the Ukip phenomenon.

First, Ukip has the potential to become the populist right-wing force in northern England that the Tories are incapable of becoming. When the Conservatives unexpectedly won the 1992 general election, my primary-school teachers came to work dressed in black. Conservatives were seen as an occupying army from the South-east who had hammered the North. Ukip leaders may believe in Thatcherism on speed, but they’re keeping it quiet and don’t suffer from the same reputation.

Second, Ukip is basically a bit of a franchise. The Liberal Democrats at the local level were traditionally like that, a hotchpotch of cynically contradictory positions, saying anything to get elected. They even dabbled with racism in Tower Hamlets in the 1980s. In Wythenshawe, Ukip is playing the “Labour has abandoned the working class” card, and even talking about protecting benefits.

And that brings us to the final point: there is a chasm between Ukip leaders and their voters. The EU is not a burning priority for most Ukip supporters.

Their priorities are immigration, fuelled by a lack of social housing, the disappearance of secure jobs, and falling living standards. On economic issues, they’re often to the left of other voters. Quite the balancing act, then.

If Ukip achieves a respectable second place in the Wythenshawe by-election, who knows: it could begin to supplant  the Tories as Labour’s northern opposition.

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