Labour needs to get serious about Ukip – by not taking it seriously. Photo: Getty
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Labour underestimates Ukip in thinking purely about its electoral impact

Ukip could prove to be of merely short-term electoral advantage to Ed Miliband; Labour may be in power after 2015, but its principles will not.

Last week, Nigel Farage announced his ambition, not just to be David Cameron's "worst nightmare" but Ed Miliband's as well. The general perception among the progressive media appears to be that Ukip's increasing threat (aptly illustrated by the suspiciously timely resignation of Douglas Carswell) will be a net positive for Labour, making it more difficult for the Conservatives to win the next general election. This is a mistake.

All too often we see politics as being only about the next election. It's not. Politics is about the sort of nation we want. Winning an election is a means to an end. That end is the principles we support becoming the principles that govern our nation. Elections themselves are not defining moments but the inevitable products of public debates. They are won and lost in the collective consciousness, not at the ballot box.

Margaret Thatcher defined the public discourse. Although she herself lost office, every government since, including those comprised of her political opponents, has pursued policies based on the ideology she espoused. Voters view the world according to the paradigm which she established.

Here's an example: most good economists will argue that the financial crisis was caused by a failure of the (private) financial sector. Yet all economic arguments in our public debate are based on the premise that we must cut back on the state. We don't discuss the logic behind this; it's become an irrefutable "fact" of British politics. The "Private = good/ State = bad" paradigm is unsupported by history or economics but every political party conforms to it because it is the paradigm which defines our public debate.

To win elections but, more importantly, to see its principles realised, a political party needs to define the debate. Unless it can do so (as I have argued before) it will always be arguing according to its opponent's terms and thus will always lose.

Ukip may prove to be of short-term electoral advantage to Labour. In the long term, it will push the public discourse further to the right. Labour may be in power after 2015, but its principles will not. A party that is content to maintain power by implementing ideals that it should fundamentally oppose does not deserve to exist.

In the United States some liberals privately welcomed the rise of the Tea Party when it appeared that its effect would be to make the Republican party permanently unelectable. Instead American public discourse was pushed to the right. GOP establishment figures like Karl Rove were made to appear centrist and reasonable, while Democrats were forced to refight old battles on abortion and race.

If Ukip continues on the road to mainstream acceptance, how long will it be before progressives in the UK are forced, once more, to defend hard-won legislation on equalities, employment rights or the minimum wage? Rather than arguing for a better future, the left will be forced to devote all its energy simply to prevent it becoming worse.

So how should the left respond? It's tempting to mollify Ukip voters, acknowledge that they have real concerns about immigration or human rights, in the hope of winning them back into the fold. But history should teach us that pandering to xenophobes only breeds more xenophobes.

Ukip supporters do not have reasonable concerns. The basis on which most positions in support of Ukip are founded are factually inaccurate. Supporting Ukip requires believing things that are simply not true. Pretending anything else will move the political discourse to a place where reality is permanently eclipsed by provocation.

There are real reasons that Ukip voters feel disenfranchised and these should be addressed, but not in the way they are expressed by Farage and co.

In the 2008 election, Obama For America destroyed John McCain's credibility by focusing on the ludicrous positions of his running mate, Sarah Palin. Her most famous statement, "I can see Russia from my house", came from the lips of Saturday Night Live's Tina Fey. Palin's politics were absurd so she was effectively laughed out of office. Ukip should be treated the same way. A party that bases its electoral appeal on ignorance and xenophobia should be a punch-line, not an election contender.

The enemy of my enemy is not my friend. Labour needs to get serious about Ukip. But the only way to do so successfully is not to take it seriously at all.

Sam Fowles is a researcher in international law and politics at Queen Mary, University of London and blogs for the Huffington Post. He tweets @SamFowles

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Let's face it: supporting Spurs is basically a form of charity

Now, for my biggest donation yet . . .

I gazed in awe at the new stadium, the future home of Spurs, wondering where my treasures will go. It is going to be one of the architectural wonders of the modern world (football stadia division), yet at the same time it seems ancient, archaic, a Roman ruin, very much like an amphitheatre I once saw in Croatia. It’s at the stage in a new construction when you can see all the bones and none of the flesh, with huge tiers soaring up into the sky. You can’t tell if it’s going or coming, a past perfect ruin or a perfect future model.

It has been so annoying at White Hart Lane this past year or so, having to walk round walkways and under awnings and dodge fences and hoardings, losing all sense of direction. Millions of pounds were being poured into what appeared to be a hole in the ground. The new stadium will replace part of one end of the present one, which was built in 1898. It has been hard not to be unaware of what’s going on, continually asking ourselves, as we take our seats: did the earth move for you?

Now, at long last, you can see what will be there, when it emerges from the scaffolding in another year. Awesome, of course. And, har, har, it will hold more people than Arsenal’s new home by 1,000 (61,000, as opposed to the puny Emirates, with only 60,000). At each home game, I am thinking about the future, wondering how my treasures will fare: will they be happy there?

No, I don’t mean Harry Kane, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker – local as well as national treasures. Not many Prem teams these days can boast quite as many English persons in their ranks. I mean my treasures, stuff wot I have been collecting these past 50 years.

About ten years ago, I went to a shareholders’ meeting at White Hart Lane when the embryonic plans for the new stadium were being announced. I stood up when questions were called for and asked the chairman, Daniel Levy, about having a museum in the new stadium. I told him that Man United had made £1m the previous year from their museum. Surely Spurs should make room for one in the brave new mega-stadium – to show off our long and proud history, delight the fans and all those interested in football history and make a few bob.

He mumbled something – fluent enough, as he did go to Cambridge – but gave nothing away, like the PM caught at Prime Minister’s Questions with an unexpected question.

But now it is going to happen. The people who are designing the museum are coming from Manchester to look at my treasures. They asked for a list but I said, “No chance.” I must have 2,000 items of Spurs memorabilia. I could be dead by the time I finish listing them. They’ll have to see them, in the flesh, and then they’ll be free to take away whatever they might consider worth having in the new museum.

I’m awfully kind that way, partly because I have always looked on supporting Spurs as a form of charity. You don’t expect any reward. Nor could you expect a great deal of pleasure, these past few decades, and certainly not the other day at Liverpool when they were shite. But you do want to help them, poor things.

I have been downsizing since my wife died, and since we sold our Loweswater house, and I’m now clearing out some of my treasures. I’ve donated a very rare Wordsworth book to Dove Cottage, five letters from Beatrix Potter to the Armitt Library in Ambleside, and handwritten Beatles lyrics to the British Library. If Beckham and I don’t get a knighthood in the next honours list, I will be spitting.

My Spurs stuff includes programmes going back to 1910, plus recent stuff like the Opus book, that monster publication, about the size of a black cab. Limited editions cost £8,000 a copy in 2007. I got mine free, as I did the introduction and loaned them photographs. I will be glad to get rid of it. It’s blocking the light in my room.

Perhaps, depending on what they want, and they might take nothing, I will ask for a small pourboire in return. Two free tickets in the new stadium. For life. Or longer . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times