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

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and i...

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and...

Primary Teaching Supply

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Day In a Page

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories