Nigel Farage is interviewed in Kelham Hall, home to Newark and Sherwood District Council. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Ed Miliband is warned of Ukip’s threat to Labour: it cuts into his party's key division

The most detailed analysis yet of Ukip’s performance shows its threat to the Labour Party.

“Vote Ukip, get Labour” – the Tories’ slightly desperate war-cry in the face of the surge in popularity of Nigel Farage’s merry band may well be proved totally wrong. But the loss of a slogan would be a small price to pay by the Conservative Party for the good news they’ll be reading this week that the Labour Party is more vulnerable to the Ukip threat than once thought.

A leading expert in the rightwing party’s rise, Dr Matthew Goodwin, who frequently analyses Ukip and the political landscape changing as we approach the 2015 general election, has done the most comprehensive study yet of Ukip’s performance in recent elections and has discovered Labour’s vulnerability in the face of Farage’s party.

This new analysis of Ukip’s performance has found that the party has made impressive inroads into a variety of largely working-class, traditionally Labour-voting constituencies. According to the Independent, the study concludes that the Labour Party’s complacency over Ukip’s impact on their electoral chances could be a key factor in Ed Miliband’s fight to reach No 10.

Goodwin has identified five key constituencies for Labour that are particularly precarious in the face of Ukip’s success. These include Great Grimsby, the incumbent of which, Austin Mitchell MP, will be standing down in 2015, and Ashfield in Nottingham, the MP of which is Gloria De Piero, shadow women and equalities minister and often tipped as a “rising star” in Miliband’s shadow cabinet.

This report, which suggests Ukip’s popularity in key Labour constituencies is partly due to concern over immigration levels, must be worrying for Miliband and many will accuse him of being too low-key about the impact of Ukip on the Labour vote.

Yet the complacent belief that the rise of a rightwing fringe party will only snatch Tory votes and is therefore an asset to Labour is one that has long since passed. Even back in April 2013, over a year before Ukip’s spectacular European election results, it was reported that Labour had launched a review into Ukip’s popularity; clearly the party was aware that, particularly in heartlands of the blue collar vote, Ukip could do some damage to the left as well as the right.

So Labour has been aware of the problem for a while, but only just seems to be waking up to the solution. Its message on immigration has grown tougher, but the communication of the message has been soft at best. “It is not prejudiced to worry about immigration,” is Miliband’s line, “it is understandable.” But he hasn’t said it loud enough, so it simply doesn’t sound like he’s “worried” enough. The shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves has also toughened Labour’s stance on EU migrants, as her suggestion came out yesterday that migrants should be denied benefits until they have contributed through the tax system. This had more impact as it came directly after, and outdid, the PM’s plan for immigrants only to be able to claim benefits for three months.

If Labour continues to move clearly in this direction, it will go some way in countering the threat from Ukip. However, it is likely to be a fiery division line in the party. Although there are many Labour MPs, particularly in working-class northern seats, who believe that their party should be speaking out about immigration and welfare, there are many others who warn the party not to try and “out-Ukip Ukip”. It is a divide over how the party should play current political, electoral challenges – but it also cuts into the key tension in Labour ideology: the old tug between more “Blue Labour” ideals, and the New Labour heritage that Miliband, despite his protestations, has not quite shaken off.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.