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The Rise of UKIP – A speech to Highgate Labour

I have been asked to speak about the rise of UKIP

I know many of you here. My interest in this subject is partly from my work as a protest lawyer against the far right (and we can discuss later whether UKIP is in the far right). One of the issues that I hope to show UKIP plays on is disaffection and this is a subject I am passionate about – I co-authored Sticking Together with IPPR examined the importance of social capital – about our social networks, our shared norms and relationships that help us get along as a society – about community Leadership.

First a few facts about UKIP

They were funded in 1993 by an academic at the LSE.

In the first 25 by elections contested, they average 1.7% of vote. They were regarded as a bit of a joke party in 1997 – often compared to the Monster Raving Loony Party. I have set out their performance  in General and European Elections.

1997 General election        0.9%
1999 European Election    7 %

2001 General Election    1.5 %
2004 European Election     16.1%

2005 General Election    2 %
2009 European elections    16.5%

2010 General Election    3.1 %
2014  European Election     27 %

The first obvious thing is the pattern of success in the Euros followed by collapse at the General. I have not included the results of local elections – and it has been rightly remarked that UKIP share of the vote actually went down this year compared to last year. The likelihood is that something similar will happen under a First past the post Election next year. So nothing to worry about…?

Well the swing is different this time – gone up to 27 % ; something seems to be going on….There seems to be an upward trajectory…..

It also slightly ignores how amazing on of those figures are – on its current polling figures of around 15-17% for a new party. That really has not happened for a new grass roots party since the formation of the Labour Party.

Even the SDP has a construction from the top – it briefly went into the mid 20s in the early 80-s before it imploded. But for a grassroots, bottom up party to now be polling in this region has never ever happened before.

What is this rise drawing on – what are the issues which are facing people in the UK today?

What does the Highgate Labour Party think?

Highgate Labour members were concerned about inequalities and cost of living – but recognise that many in country were concerned about immigration – Apart from 1 vote, none mentioned Europe

What has UKIP has campaigned on?

Europe and Immigration – they have junked the rest of their 2010 manifesto (that called for a flat tax and privatisation of the NHS). And they say that their only policies are about withdrawal from Europe and the control of our own borders.

The No Change Party

But if we dig behind that, it is much more about “change” – UKIP voters are older, mostly white, less skilled, more  socially conservative  – people that had been left out of the political debate – either because they didn’t vote – or their vote was taken for granted. Some commentators have termed them “THE LEFT BEHIND” voters. That is why I think this links to the work that we did in Camden on “social capital”.

At the minute, the “Left Behind” are those that are socially conservative and so do not like the changes in modern UK be it through migration or social policy… but it also includes those that have been left behind by our economic system – who have suffered from Globalisation, and perhaps most importantly, who are suffering from austerity

UKIP have mobilised that vote – that means that it is true that there is an element of Tory vote that UKIP are taking; however, it is incredibly complacent for Labour to think that it will not affect us.
Stats from previous elections have shown that where UKIP support is minimal anyway – (up to about 3%) then it takes away Tory votes. If it rises above 3%, it draws in Labour and Lid Dem votes.
So the areas that voted UKIP  in 2014 were not confined to the south and south west (their traditional strongholds) but also North; traditional areas where Labour are the party of power but now people feel  that they have been left behind by the so called metropolitan elite – (which they would classify as most of us in this room)

UKIP Successful – not in London

We have the “left behind” in London too – so why did London not go UKIP. This goes back to the issue of change.

One obvious explanation would be the churning population. Those with shallow roots are least likely to mourn change. Tony Travers of the London School of Economics said: “There is a self-defining image of London as a place that celebrates difference. It wasn’t created by Ken Livingstone but he did build upon it – in the same way as New York self-defined itself – and that approach has been carried on by his successor, Boris Johnson.”  So the idea of local identity and devolution has been important.

Travers identifies two migratory tribes in the capital – those who come from abroad and those from other parts of the country. Both choose to live in London and thus buy into the narrative. Strong roots are unnecessary. “The word Londoner is an entirely inclusive concept.”

So even tough London stood out against the UKIP bandwagon, it shows that the issue that UKIP sought to capitalise on was about changing communities (partly through migration) and galvanising the “left behind”

What should Labour’s response be?

What Labour has to do is to follow the model in Barking and Dagenham when they were under threat from the BNP.

We should never ever get into an auction with these people about how can be tougher, who can be more British, who can be more anti European. I don’t often quote Tony Blair – but as he said last week – that is what the Tories have done and a fat lot of good it has done them

For heaven’s sake, we join the party as internationalists – As a child of immigrants, I hope we celebrate our diversity, celebrate immigration as making us this country better and richer in culture and indeed in wealth.

Its is estimated that immigration added 2% to GDP in mid 2000s

However, we have failed to understand the effect immigration was going to have on some populations. Immigration went up 60% – so there was about an additional 300K per year coming into the country.

Yet in those areas, we didn’t increase housing supply, we didn’t put in place many (although some) increased provision for public services like Health and education. To misquote Ed, we saw economic growth for the few – not the many.

What we should do, is not enter the arms race against a crackdown on immigration but if immigration makes the country richer, We should have old fashioned socialist principles of redistribution to ensure that everyone gained.

We should have policies that ensure the worst effects of Globalisation are mitigated so that workers cannot be exploited – such as the ensuring a mandatory Living Wage  (Sign the petition that I have started on this

And importantly, we will need to combine this with solutions to our housing crisis – that would make it a proper cost of living crisis campaign (which is what many of you said was the priority in the country)

Distrust of politicians

The second thing that I think accounts for UKIPs current popularity is distrust of politicians.  This is not in the figures, but is something that I will return to. In May 2009, UKIP were polling at 7% of the vote. The week after the Telegraph started to publish the expenses scandal…..UKIP went up to 16%  –  a 9% leap in 7 days – yes they fell back in 2010 election but that is an astonishing leap and to some extent might explain what is going on.

Whilst Nigel Farage does of course talk about immigration and Europe, he seems now to focus more and more on the distrust of politicians.  This is a quote of his: “They are fed up to the back teeth with cardboard cut careerist in Westminster – the spot the difference politicians – those who are desperate to fight the Middle Ground but cannot even find it,. The politicians who daren’t say what they really think or mean “

This is the “they [politicans] are all the same line”

Jon Snow argues that the real scandal of politics is not the 27% that voted UKIP but the 60% that didn’t bother to vote at all.

So I think UKIP’s popularity is down to that general feeling – it does not matter who is in power, you are all the same – the anti politics protest movement (that the Lib Dems tried to benefit from and protest groups like Occupy tried to tap into). It doesn’t matter who is in power.

We know that this is not true. We know that politics matters and who is in power matters but we must deal with this issue of remoteness, of disconnect.

In fact, it doesn’t appear on anyone’s list, but I think that it is one of the biggest problems facing us at the minute.

The solution – we need to show people that their vote matters, we need to provide clear alternatives and politicians who can take local action into Town Hall or Westminster change – and importantly we need devolution – we need to make sure that power is closer – that people see the effects of their participation in politics; local action can mean national change.


So my solution to UKIP is not a drift to the right on Europe and immigration – because that misunderstands what UKIP is about. What we need are policies that cater for those that feel they have been left behind and a politics that is closer to the communities that we represent.