Whilst party leaders are dismissive of last Thursday’s Clacton by-election result, Labour and Conservative Party members are figuring out ways to re-engage with UKIP voters.
Comments from a fringe meeting at the recent Labour Party conference revealed home truths about the electorate. The Guardian carried a summary of the comments, which the Progress magazine website features in greater detail.
The Rochester and Strood candidate:
expressed her concern about her party stressing the economic benefits of migration.
The Southampton candidate, Rowenna Davis, pointed out that (emphases mine):
… Southampton had a tradition of being open to immigrants but added: “People talk about strong borders – there are no borders for eastern Europe any more. In Southampton our population increased by 9 % in six years. Our investment in schools, housing and doctors did not increase by 9 % in six years. It stayed level. When you have more people in the area, and the resources stay the same, it puts on pressure.
“Similarly wages in the construction industry declined from £130 a day to £60 a day. It may be of benefit overall to UK plc but for working-class people in Southampton very often the supply of labour increased and their wages went down. That is basic law of economics.”
She told the shadow immigration minister David Hanson she appreciated the hard task he faced but “if I gave the answers you have given on the doorstep that door is going to get shut in my face.
“These people are not racist. They have traditionally been Labour for generations, they very much have friends and family members that are migrants, but they feel let down and they feel abandoned.”
Urging the party to offer something more, she said: “I don’t see how we can plan public services for migrants or British citizens without knowing how many are coming into our country next year.”
On yesterday’s Sunday Politics, Andrew Neil asked Nigel Farage if he felt threatened by the migration situation. Farage replied honestly, saying he personally has not but that other parts of the UK have experienced significant change over the past several years.
When Labour candidates can see what is happening, it is a wake up call. Yet, that might be unlikely because of the shift in party emphasis since 1997.
Jeremy Cliffe — Oxford, Harvard and Brussels, according to Guardian readers — is certainly not one willing to embrace the traditional working class:
… “new working class” voters are the future. As Ipsos Mori has shown, Generation Y is more liberal for its age than any previous generation. It is more relaxed about identity politics, more likely to have grown up among immigrants or their children, more likely to have travelled abroad, more urban and better educated.
That’s exactly the strategy leftist think tank Terra Nova adopted in France during the 2012 elections. It worked for them, but Terra Nova’s new leader says that the PS has alienated much of its core vote and is now seen as being too urban, too far removed from traditional working class values. Those people are now drifting towards Marine LePen.
Cliffe recommends doing:
something more arduous: rebuild membership of local parties and be present in voters’ lives.
Noooo. We’ve had enough of Labour’s presence in our lives, none of which we ever asked for in the first place. The Coalition missed a big opportunity; they should have rolled back some of this onerous legislation; instead, they added to it.
As to rebuilding membership of local parties, reader Chris Wyatt wrote:
The problem with this argument is that Labour constituency parties and ward parties are made up of tightly knit cliques who carve up the council seats which are their way of earning a living. Outsiders are not wanted and are kept out.
The precious council seats are retained within a group to the point at which you see husband & wife teams with adjoining wards. Indeed in some authorities, council seats are inherited – passed on from father to son. The only time that “outsiders” are wanted is at election-time so they can be sent out delivering leaflets & canvassing.
There is no churn in the local parties just the same people voted for time & again mostly on ex-council estates by benefits recipients. Hence there are no new ideas.
This is what UKIP is capitalising on and in many Labour “One-Party” states it is a much bigger threat that Labour Central Office realises.
Cliffe’s suggestions were poorly received by other readers. Indeed, the comments revealed much about the distance of the Labour Party from ordinary people’s lives.
Reader seaside1 said:
Here we go again – the working class cannot speak for itself, instead we hear the voice of an economist defending Labour’s “liberal vision” – i.e. neo-liberal vision of society. What is it about the Guardian that it has to keep on lining up people who don’t have a bloody clue about working class people to tell us how we should think?
Is this guy for real ? Clearly he doesn’t get out much and obviously doesn’t have to compete with dirt-cheap imported labour or find a school place for his kids, etc, etc.
It will be interesting to see what the Rochester and Strood by-election result will be. Ed Miliband’s pledge to ‘listen’ will mean little to disillusioned voters.
Neil asked Farage whom he would prefer as Prime Minister: Miliband or Cameron. Farage declined to answer, speculating that ‘one or both’ leaders might have stood down by the time campaigning begins. He said he would agree to answer the question closer to the time.
The Guardian‘s Nick Watt said earlier in the show that Labour do not have a tradition of asking their leaders to stand down, even if they would like them to do so. The next few months will be fascinating.