Back in the thick of it after the European Parliament’s summer break, it is time to take up this blog again. It is, indeed, a perilous time and I will be blogging on Syria later following a debate in the European Parliament which is due next week. Suffice it to say for the time being that I am in total agreement with the decision recently taken by our own Westminster parliament and intend to reflect that view when we come to vote in the European Parliament.
Even though the Syrian question is rightly currently dominating politics, there remain other pressing matters. Yesterday evening I was privileged to attend the launch of the Policy Network think tank book “Progressive Politics After the Crash” edited by Olaf Cramme, Patrick Diamond and Michael McTernan. The excellent debate on the pressing question raised prompted me to examine other material from the Policy Network.
This insightful piece by Michael Skey, Lecturer in Media & Culture at the School of Political, Social and International Studies, University of East Anglia, gives us in the Labour Party pause for thought about the UK Independence Party. One of Skey’s most significant points is where he quotes research carried out by YouGov in February 2013 showing that UKIP supporters generally have less formal education and a slightly lower than average income, which means they are more likely to be in lower social groups (C2 and DE), rather than ABC1.
This is, of course, a really significant finding as it demonstrates that far from only attracting disgruntled, and affluent, Tories, UKIP is increasingly taking voters from Labour. I understand that some of the established Labour heartlands in the North of England have seen quite substantial shifts in recent local elections.
Many people no longer feel loyalty to one political party whom they support throughout their lives. Politics is becoming ever more volatile and fragmented, a situation which has allowed UKIP to gain ground. Their brand of “anti-politics” populism has flourished, to the point where over the summer UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom felt able to refer to Africa as “bongo bongo land”. The only comfort is that UKIP is not as strong as we are led to believe. They have only 202 councillors, many of whom are at parish level.
Nevertheless UKIP remains a threat to Labour, and we must take it seriously. And UKIP is not only an electoral threat. Their populism comes from the far right, which means, of course, that they will take more Conservative than Labour votes. However, partly by virtue of the amount of media coverage UKIP receives, which is far more than its size and number of votes merits, we are in danger of the political discourse and eventually the policies of all our political parties moving to the right.
I don’t want a small party made up of “racists, fruitcakes and loons” as David Cameron once graphically described UKIP to have any influence whatsoever on the government of the United Kingdom. As a nation we are worth far more than that.