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Ukip? What Ukip? Polls show the Conservatives don't need a gateway drug

For some former Labour and Lib Dem supporters, Ukip has been a "gateway drug" to voting Tory. But, as last night's election results show, others have gone straight for the hard stuff. 


The rise of the UK Independence Party is fundamental to understanding the last two electoral cycles,  and its fall will be key to analysing the upcoming campaign. In 2010, Ukip gained 3.1 per cent of the vote but by 2015 this swelled to 12.7 per cent as it sucked up votes from across the political spectrum.

However, as demonstrated in the local election, the party’s support has slumped. With its founding mission – leaving the European Union – now becoming a reality, it has lost dozens of council seats and a large proportion of its voters. Clearly, it has lost support almost as quickly as it gained it – but where is that support going? 

Where Ukip picked up support from – and has lost it to

In the last election Ukip was causing the Conservatives the biggest problems, picking up 28 per cent of its support from them, whilst only taking 14 per cent from the Liberal Democrats and 10 per cent from Labour.

However, as Paul Nuttall’s party has lost support over the past few months, the Tories are have not just taken back votes they originally lost to Ukip, they have also taken many more. Of Ukip’s 2015 vote, 37 per cent plan on voting Conservative this time out, with just 5 per cent voting Labour and 2 per cent Liberal Democrat. Just over a third (36 per cent) plan on sticking with Ukip.

Ukip: A “gateway drug”?

Some have speculated that the reason for this is that Ukip has acted like a “gateway drug” for voting Conservative – a halfway house for those leaving Labour or the Liberal Democrats, en route to the Tories. The theory is that there was a section of alienated voters who, for a variety of reasons, still didn’t feel they could vote for the Conservatives – so they voted Ukip instead. The thinking goes that having switched their vote once, they find it more comfortable moving over to the Tory column this time around.

YouGov’s panel means we can track peoples voting intention over many years, giving us the opportunity to test this theory. While over half (55 per cent) of the 2015 Ukip vote that came from the Conservatives has now gone back to where it came from, it is a different story for the Liberal Democrats and Labour.

In both cases, a large number have moved again – this time to the Tories. Of those that voted Liberal Democrat in 2010 and then moved to Ukip in 2015, one in three (34 per cent) have moved to the Conservatives while 28 per cent have returned to the Lib Dem fold. The situation is worse for Jeremy Corbyn’s party. Of those that voted Labour in 2010 and then Ukip in 2015, over a third (35 per cent) now say they will vote Conservative while just 9 per cent plan to return to the red column.

A bigger “gateway” in some areas

This suggests that for some, Ukip has acted as a “gateway drug” for Labour and Liberal Democrats to switch their support to the Conservatives. Although its overall influence is on quite a small scale, it could well have a more pronounced impact on the support for these parties in some parts of the country than others.

A good example is Labour in Wales. Here, a higher than average proportion of the party’s 2010 voters backed Ukip in 2015, and a significant number are now looking to back the Conservatives in next month’s general election. A similar thing could also affect the Liberal Democrats in the South West.

More are going straight to the hard stuff

While it may have matter more in certain pockets, it is important not to exaggerate the over scale of the “Ukip-as-a-gateway-drug” phenomena. For example, only a tiny fraction (around half a percent) have taken the path from Labour to Ukip to the Conservatives through the last seven years.

This is barely noticeable compared to the bigger switch taking place over that period – those moving straight from Labour to the Conservatives. Since 2010, approaching 4 per cent of the electorate have gone from red to blue. So although Ukip has acted as a “gateway drug” to the Conservatives for many Labour voters, Jeremy Corbyn’s team needs to be more worried about those that are moving straight to the hard stuff.

Chris Curtis is a political researcher at YouGov. 

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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.