Look behind you: Ukip lies second in Labour's heartlands. Photo: Getty Images
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Look behind you: how Labour can avoid the threat of Ukip

Ukip did untold damage to Labour both in its heartlands and in the battlegrounds. What can be done about it?

If Labour is to recover from its disastrous defeat, it has to pay much greater attention to the forces of disengagement and alienation that are imperilling UK democracy and politics. Disillusionment with the political system has never been more damaging to the centre-left cause. Much attention has recently focused on the threat posed by the rise of the UK Independence Party. Ukip have not yet won a seat from Labour, but they are now in second place in dozens of 'heartland' Labour constituencies across Northern England and the Midlands. Understanding exactly why voters have drifted from a party of the traditional left to a party of the populist right will be crucial for Labour's electoral recovery.   

According to polling carried out by IpsosMORI for Policy Network, voters have defected to Ukip because they have manifestly lost faith in the conventional political system. Political disaffection is, of course, widespread in contemporary Britain. According to our survey, only one in 10 people believe politicians 'are out to do the best for their country'. Half of all voters think politicians are merely out for themselves. However, among Ukip voters, the figures are worse: just three per cent trust politicians' motives; seven out of 10 believe politicians are brazenly pursuing their own interests. Ukip supporters, as well as SNP voters, are far more likely to worry that their voice doesn't count in the decisions taken by local politicians: 61 per cent and 57 per cent, as against 38 per cent and 35 per cent among Conservative and Labour voters. 70 per cent of those who back Ukip believe they have little influence over national politicians; among Green voters, this figure rises to 80 per cent. Meanwhile, 83 per cent of Ukip voters believe the system of governing in Britain requires radical improvement and reform.  

This indicates that the role of political disengagement in driving Ukip support has been understated in much political commentary. The left have tended to blame economic factors for Ukip's rapid rise, notably increasing employment insecurity and downward pressure on living standards in the face of rapid globalisation, exposure to the European single market, and of course, rapid inward migration. The right, on the other hand, have focused on cultural identity as an explanation for the defection of mainstream voters. The liberal cosmopolitan mind-set of the ruling political elite and their refusal to acknowledge the importance of the nation and patriotism to citizen's identity has insidiously chipped away at support for the established parties. Of course, economics and culture are inevitably intertwined, while neither account fully recognises the extent of alienation from the political system, a key driver of Ukip's insurgency.     

Clearly, it would be churlish to dismiss the role of economic forces in the wake of the 2007-8 financial crash. Disengagement reflects a broader failure of the major political parties to evolve a new economic model in the aftermath of the crisis. All successful governing projects since the Second World War have offered voters the promise of economic security combined with rising material affluence: this was so for post-war corporatism, for Thatcherism (albeit accompanied by disruptive liberal reforms) and eventually, for New Labour. Today, however, no coherent programme is on offer, creating a seismic vacuum in political ideas. However, alienation cannot merely result from parties no longer delivering the 'bread and butter' of secure, well paid jobs, rising material living standards and increased personal consumption. Something is rotten at the heart of British democracy and politics itself.

To regain the initiative, parties like Labour will have to fashion a genuinely new politics, a theme so far absent from the party’s leadership debate. Labour has a particular responsibility given the electoral decimation of the Liberal Democrats in 2015: if Labour does not speak up for political reform, for constitutionalism, and for civil liberties – then who will? But it is also in Labour's electoral self-interest to win back disgruntled Ukip voters. Policy Network's recent study, 'The Populist Signal: Why politics and democracy need to change' by Claudia Chwalisz indicates the potential for democratic redesign and institutional renovation. This is not about more tinkering with political structures in Whitehall and Westminster, but enabling citizens to play a meaningful role in the governing process, while at the same time radically devolving power. Giving people a stake in decision-making is often dismissed as pandering to the affluent chattering classes. However, according to Policy Network’s poll, up to 70 per cent of Ukip voters would be prepared to participate in a local citizens' assembly. 54 per cent want to take part directly in a constitutional convention to consider the future of UK democracy. Elsewhere in the industrialised world, governments are experimenting with new forms of democratic involvement from citizen's juries and community assemblies, to the random selection of local political representatives.

The world is making the transition from an age of representative democracy to an age of participatory democracy. The process is uneven and at times unleashes contradictory forces, but the direction of travel is unmistakable. The left in Britain must ensure it is on the right side of history. In the wake of its terrible defeat in May, the party would do well to remember that titan of the post-war Labour government, Aneurin Bevan's, immortal phrase: 'The purpose of getting power is to be able to give it away'.

Patrick Diamond is a lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London and a former adviser to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Policy Network's report is 'The Populist Signal: Why politics and democracy need to change' by Claudia Chwalisz.            

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Like it or hate it, it doesn't matter: Brexit is happening, and we've got to make a success of it

It's time to stop complaining and start campaigning, says Stella Creasy.

A shortage of Marmite, arguments over exporting jam and angry Belgians. And that’s just this month.  As the Canadian trade deal stalls, and the government decides which cottage industry its will pick next as saviour for the nation, the British people are still no clearer getting an answer to what Brexit actually means. And they are also no clearer as to how they can have a say in how that question is answered.

To date there have been three stages to Brexit. The first was ideological: an ever-rising euroscepticism, rooted in a feeling that the costs the compromises working with others require were not comparable to the benefits. It oozed out, almost unnoticed, from its dormant home deep in the Labour left and the Tory right, stoked by Ukip to devastating effect.

The second stage was the campaign of that referendum itself: a focus on immigration over-riding a wider debate about free trade, and underpinned by the tempting and vague claim that, in an unstable, unfair world, control could be taken back. With any deal dependent on the agreement of twenty eight other countries, it has already proved a hollow victory.

For the last few months, these consequences of these two stages have dominated discussion, generating heat, but not light about what happens next. Neither has anything helped to bring back together those who feel their lives are increasingly at the mercy of a political and economic elite and those who fear Britain is retreating from being a world leader to a back water.

Little wonder the analogy most commonly and easily reached for by commentators has been that of a divorce. They speculate our coming separation from our EU partners is going to be messy, combative and rancorous. Trash talk from some - including those in charge of negotiating -  further feeds this perception. That’s why it is time for all sides to push onto Brexit part three: the practical stage. How and when is it actually going to happen?

A more constructive framework to use than marriage is one of a changing business, rather than a changing relationship. Whatever the solid economic benefits of EU membership, the British people decided the social and democratic costs had become too great. So now we must adapt.

Brexit should be as much about innovating in what we make and create as it is about seeking to renew our trading deals with the world. New products must be sought alongside new markets. This doesn’t have to mean cutting corners or cutting jobs, but it does mean being prepared to learn new skills and invest in helping those in industries that are struggling to make this leap to move on. The UK has an incredible and varied set of services and products to offer the world, but will need to focus on what we do well and uniquely here to thrive. This is easier said than done, but can also offer hope. Specialising and skilling up also means we can resist those who want us to jettison hard-won environmental and social protections as an alternative. 

Most accept such a transition will take time. But what is contested is that it will require openness. However, handing the public a done deal - however well mediated - will do little to address the division within our country. Ensuring the best deal in a way that can garner the public support it needs to work requires strong feedback channels. That is why transparency about the government's plans for Brexit is so important. Of course, a balance needs to be struck with the need to protect negotiating positions, but scrutiny by parliament- and by extension the public- will be vital. With so many differing factors at stake and choices to be made, MPs have to be able and willing to bring their constituents into the discussion not just about what Brexit actually entails, but also what kind of country Britain will be during and after the result - and their role in making it happen. 

Those who want to claim the engagement of parliament and the public undermines the referendum result are still in stages one and two of this debate, looking for someone to blame for past injustices, not building a better future for all. Our Marmite may be safe for the moment, but Brexit can’t remain a love it or hate it phenomenon. It’s time for everyone to get practical.