Nigel Farage speaks at the UKIP spring conference in the Riviera International on February 28, 2014 in Torquay. Photograph: Getty Images.
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UKIP is a threat to Labour - but not in the north

Miliband's northern fortresses are safe but Farage's party could prevent Labour winning southern and eastern marginals off the Tories in 2015.

After initially being viewed as a threat to the Tories alone, much has been written recently about the challenge UKIP poses to Labour. The academics Matthew Goodwin and Robert Ford, whose book Revolt on the Right: Explaining Public Support for the Radical Right in Britain is published next week, have studied this issue more than anyone else. As they point out in today's Guardian, it is wrong to view the typical UKIP voter as a retired colonel enraged by EU directives and gay marriage. Rather, the party draws much of its support from working class voters (many of whom voted Labour in 2005 before defecting to the Tories in 2010) alienated by the collapse in living standards and the lack of good jobs. Goodwin and Ford write: 

Don't think of Ukip as just a party; think of them as a symptom of far deeper social and value divisions in Britain. Farage is winning over working-class, white male voters because they feel left behind by Britain's rapid economic and social transformation and left out of our political conversation; struggling people who feel like strangers in a society whose ruling elites do not talk like them or value the things which matter to them.

This should ring loud alarm bells on the left. In a time of falling incomes, rising inequality and spending cuts, such voters should be lining up behind the party that traditionally stood for social protection and redistribution. Instead, they are switching their loyalty to a right-wing party headed by a stockbroker and staffed by activists who worship Thatcher. Those who are getting hit hardest by the crisis and austerity are turning not to Labour, but to Farage for solutions.

They and others point to UKIP's impressive by-election performances in Labour-held northern seats such as South Shields, Rotherham and Middlesbrough as evidence that Ed Miliband, as well as David Cameron, should be looking nervously over his shoulder. It is indeed impressive that a party many dismissed as irrelevant after its failure to win a seat in 2010, has become the de facto opposition in parts of the north. But as far as 2015 is concerned, none of this matters. If UKIP does win any seats (and it may not), they won't be in the north. At worst for Labour, its huge majorities will be reduced to merely large ones. More likely, UKIP will struggle to repeat its by-election performances (which are a poor guide to general election outcomes) and Miliband's party will increase its dominance. 

Goodwin and Ford suggest that the real threat to Labour (assuming it wins power) will come in 2020 when the party will face "an ageing population; straining public services; high migration from poorer EU states; persistent inequality; and the economic and fiscal overhang of the worst crisis for 80 years", and when UKIP "will be a known alternative". But this argument involves many too unreliable assumptions. UKIP would almost certainly suffer from the return of the Tories to opposition (nearly half of its supporters voted Conservative in 2010) and the replacement of Cameron as leader. It will struggle to maintain momentum if and when Nigel Farage (who has pledged to resign as leader if the party fails to win a seat in 2015) steps down, and will have to work for decades, not years, before it can dream of taking seats off Labour. 

It's for reasons like these that some Labour supporters dismiss the alleged "threat" to the party as non-existent. But this view is similarly mistaken. UKIP is a threat to Labour's election chances, but not in the way most people think. Rather than Miliband's northern fortresses, the seats to watch are the Tory-held marginals in the south and east of England (Lincoln, Ipswich, Thurrock, Northampton North, Harlow, Norwich North) that Labour needs to win to achieve a majority. As psephologist Lewis Baston has noted, "In some of them, where either Ukip is exceptionally strong or there is a close contest between the Conservatives and Labour, Ukip topped the poll in 2013. In others, such as Ipswich, the Ukip surge of 2013 seemed to reduce Labour’s lead over the Conservatives." 

The danger for Labour is the possibility that Tory defectors could return home in 2015, while Labour defectors stay put. By successfully appealing to the working class voters Miliband needs to win, UKIP could create a split in the opposition vote that allows the Conservatives to hang on. Forget 2020 and fantasies of UKIP replacing Labour as the northern party of choice, the two are locked in a struggle right now that could determine whether Miliband enters Downing Street at all. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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On the important issues, Louise Casey all too often has little to say

Far from moving the debate on, this new report on integration adds little to the report I commissioned in 2001. 

For 15 years, “numerous government reports on community cohesion and integration have not been implemented with enough force or consistency” concludes Louise Casey’s review of  integration.  The government’s lukewarm response suggests their effort will be as “diluted and muddled” as all the rest.

There’s a deeper reason why governments shy away from the measures that are needed. The report's wealth of data sets out a stark if sometimes contestable picture of a divided society.  But no amount of data can really bring the lives of our fellow citizens to life. As the Brexit vote underlined, this is now a nation divided by class, geography, education, wealth, opportunity and race. Those divisions colour the way we live our lives, the way we see problems in society, the relations we have with others, and our political choices. The report, like many before it, stops short of setting out that reality. It’s easier to pretend that most of us pretty much agree on most things; but just few people don’t agree and they must be the problem. Predictably, much of the early coverage has focussed on the Muslim community and new migrants. If only it were so easy.

According to Casey “in this country, we take poverty, social exclusion, social justice and social mobility seriously” and we do it “across political divides”. Apparently “creating a fair, just society where everyone can prosper and get on” is a cornerstone of British values. Yet for page after page the report chronicles the serial failure of this benign consensus to tackle educational under-performance, and economic and racial disadvantage. If we all agree, how come we haven't done anything about it?

These problems are not certainly easy to solve, but more lip service is paid to tackling them than effort. The practical material issues documented here need addressing, but punches are pulled when hard answers are needed. Given the dramatic impact of mass migration on cohesion, is integration possible while current rates of immigration persist? Can we find the political will to tackle poverty and disadvantage when those who might benefit from the effort are divided against each other by suspicion, race, geography and values? After all, rather than progressive policies producing a cohesive society, social unity is the precondition for the introduction of progressive policies.

We don't actually actually agree on what our “fundamental values” mean in practice. We can all sign up to democracy and the rule of law, but as soon as those are put into practice – see the court case on Article 50 – we are divided. When judges are popularly seen as “enemies of the people” and a vote in an elected parliament as a threat to democracy, in what sense are law and democracy fundamental?

Casey usefully highlights how treating homeless families equally, irrespective of ethnicity and length of residence can create the perception that minorities are being favoured over long standing residents. Our differing views on what is “just” and how “fairness” are defined can tear us apart. Is it fair to favour the newcomer over the indigenous? Is it just to put length of time on the waiting list above housing need? We often don't even acknowledge the legitimacy of other points of view, let alone try to find common ground.

The continual invocation of Britain and British values lends an air of unreality to the report.  Most people in England include British in their identity, but Englishness and English interests are of growing importance. In a worrying development, some areas of England  may be polarising between a white Englishness and an ethnic minority Britishness. Integration won't happen without a shared national story that combines a unifying national identity with the acceptance that we all have more than one identity that matters to us. Ignoring the reality of complex and multiple identities closes off one essential way forward.

None of this means that the criticism of some reactionary and occasionally dangerous ideas and practices in the Muslim community should be ignored and not confronted. But in a country where the established church opposes homosexual relationships and praise for Vladimir Putin's Russia is now mainstream politics it is hard to believe that all our problems can be reduced to the behaviour of a minority of a minority community.

John Denham was a Labour MP from 1992 to 2015, and a Secretary of State 2007 to 2010. He is Director of the Centre for English Identity and Politics at Winchester University