The time has come to revise what is becoming Labour’s conventional wisdom on UKIP, namely that UKIP is to be encouraged because they take Tory votes.
David Cameron’s long awaited speech where he pledged that, if the Tories win an outright majority at the next election, there will be a referendum on a yet to be negotiated re-jigging of our relationship with EU, with rejection of the new deal by the British public resulting in our exit, seems to have calmed some of the problems with his party - for now. Ed Miliband did the right thing by saying that we would not support an in/out referendum, though a Labour government would retain the law meaning that any future EU treaty changes would be put to the British public for approval.
After this was made clear, Nigel Farage published an article in the Mail on Sunday stating that Ed’s position on Europe meant that UKIP would now be coming after our votes. He said:
“Perhaps it will please the Conservatives to hear that we are also targeting the Labour vote. For what we represent is the voice of not just disgruntled, disenchanted Conservatives but everyone in Britain affected by the loss of sovereignty and power that comes with being a member of the EU… We will, in the county council elections in May this year and through a national advertising campaign in our major urban centres, target traditional Labour voters in a way UKIP has never done before.”
The aforementioned conventional wisdom, I have to say, backed by recent polling data, says that even with a concerted effort on the part of UKIP against Labour, the Tories will still have more to fear than we do. On a constituency by constituency basis, the Tories lose seats to us, or fail to gain seats from us and the Lib-Dems, by margins that can be almost solely attribute to an ascendant UKIP. Current trends suggest that UKIP won’t win any seats, but will do enough in the popular vote to cost the Conservatives.
But there is still no room for complacency, polls can change rapidly and there are still two years to go. For all its vagueness, Cameron’s speech has meant that the Tories have gained some ground on the issue of Europe. Farage is, I think, recognising that UKIP may find they have less and less to use against the Tories.
We could, therefore, see a drift towards either an official, semi-acknowledged, or completely unofficial electoral pact between the Conservatives and UKIP come the next election. This would mean UKIP leaving Tory areas and gunning for us.
The best way to combat this is to start tackling the Tories and UKIP on Europe now. Ed Miliband was right to shun the idea of an in/out referendum, but now our party needs to start talking about why Ed is right, and how much damage Cameron’s proposal, even if it never comes to fruition, could do. Let’s not wait for a referendum to start talking about why the UK needs to stay in the EU, let’s do it now and show UKIP and the Tories how wrong they are.