If the theme of Ukip’s conference wasn’t obvious enough already, Nigel Farage used his conference speech to declare, “We are parking our tanks on the Labour Party’s lawn.”
The message was a constant throughout the opening day of Ukip’s conference. It was palpable in the conference’s location at Doncaster Racecourse – as Farage reminded the audience, Ed Miliband’s constituency is next door.
Labour bashing was a reoccurring phenomenon of the day. Natasha Bolter, a former Labour member from Tower Halmets, attacked the “female tokenism” in the party. Louise Bours used her entire speech on health to aggressively attack Labour for the privatisation and bureaucratisation of the NHS. Farage was no different, saying that the abuse in Rotherham was a “direct result” of Labour policies and accusing Labour of “corruption” over postal votes. The new policy of a “superluxury” VAT rate of 25 per cent on expensive cars and boots seems ideally placed to appeal to disillusioned Labourites.
Yet no amount of bluster can obscure the critical finding of British psephology today. It has repeatedly been shown that, for every vote that Ukip take from the Labour Party, they take three from the Conservatives.
The apparent obsession with Labour voters is tacit acknowledgement of this reality. It reflects the underlying truth that, as Ukip figures privately accept, there simply isn’t much room for Ukip to grow on the right.
If Ukip is to have the transformative effect on British politics that it desires, it cannot do so without copious votes from the left. Nothing would show Ukip’s potential in Labour seats like a by-election victory in Heywood and Middleton. But, as Nigel Farage admitted in his press conference after his speech, “There’s too big a mountain to climb in such a short space of time.” He said that “Labour have talked it up (the Ukip threat) to try and scare their own party machine into action.”
As Farage said, Labour has been complacent about Ukip in the past. After the uber-provocative location of this Ukip conference, Labour has no excuse to be so again. Whether Labour can sort out its line of attack on Ukip once and for all will determine whether we have reached “Peak Ukip” – or if Ukip’s performance in 2015 is merely the basis for an even more ferocious assault in the 2020 general election.