Labour beware: Ukip is making inroads in all directions, and Ed Miliband’s party needs to make its own contingency plans

Peter Hain is right about his party neglecting its white working-class traditional support

Share

It has become a political commonplace that Ukip will hurt the Conservatives more than any other party. That’s true, and it’s one of the reasons why David Cameron has tied himself up in so many knots about Europe. But as Peter Hain warns today, Labour too should not underestimate the danger Ukip represents.

Mr Hain is right about his party neglecting its white working-class traditional support. It has been doing so for many years, though; Indeed, Labour has been warned before by its own voters, who have variously turned to the Liberal Democrats, the BNP, the SNP and Plaid Cymru to register their dissatisfaction.

That tells us something both hopeful and depressing. The optimistic spin is that disengaged voters tend to be repelled by the main “established” parties – which now of course includes the Liberal Democrats – rather than feeling any particular sympathy with the specific policies advocated by the parties of protest. The popularity of the BNP in parts of Essex a few years ago, for example, evaporated as quickly as it appeared. We should be more than grateful for that, and that the fundamentally democratic Ukip is marginalising the neo-Nazis. To that degree Ukip has neutralised and civilised what, in the hands of Nick Griffin, could be a much more divisive debate about immigration.

The pessimistic side of the story derives from the size and scale of the vote Ukip is likely to garner at the European elections and in next week’s by-election in Wythenshawe and Sale. For the public – and especially the core Labour voters whom Mr Hain sympathises with – are  giving up on politics and politicians. Of course politicians have always been unpopular, ranking somewhere close to estate agents and bankers in public esteem – but the current mood of “anti-politics” is shading into an “anti-democratic” groundswell, even nihilism, as epitomised in Russell Brand’s deranged call for “revolution”.

We have not heard it yet, and Nigel Farage certainly does not subscribe to this view, but it may not be long before some clever man on the make starts to persuade people that parliamentary democracy is actually useless, and that what the country needs is less of the “talking shop” and more strong, determined leadership in their interests. A populist agenda – not so very different from Ukip’s, as it happens – can be easily constructed, centring on the old standbys of immigration, scapegoating business people and bankers, and blaming anything else that is wrong with the nation on Brussels and the “old parties” at Westminster. A time of economic difficulty – and nowhere has the squeeze on public spending, services and wages been felt so keenly as in Labour’s heartlands – is an opportune moment for such activity.

Mr Hain believes the answer, for Labour at least, is for it to find “radical” policies. And yet this has not always worked in the past – the 1983 debacle being the outstanding example, with scars still visible on Labour’s body politic. The answer may be something Mr Hain has more recent experience of: “New Labour”. Deeply unfashionable now, but as Labour frets about its prospects, it might be a period worth revisiting. This summer will mark 20 years since Tony Blair become leader and launched his remarkable project to re-energise Labour’s traditional support – and reach out to swing voters. He proved that it can be done.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Dynamics CRM Developer (C#, .NET, Dynamics CRM 2011/2013)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Dynamics CRM D...

Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Deputy Editor's Letter:

Independent Voices, Indy Voices Rhodri Jones
A couple stand in front of a beautiful cloudy scene  

In sickness and in health: It’s been stormy but there are blessings in the clouds

Rebecca Armstrong
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?