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  1. Election 2024
30 March 2015

Why Labour’s anti-immigration mugs are a boon to Ukip

Not everyone is unhappy about Labour's anti-immigration mugs. Ukip are very, very happy.

By Tim Wigmore

Ed Miliband describes himself as a different sort of politician. This guy is different: he under-promises and over-delivers.

But evidently not when it comes to immigration. “Controls on immigration,” reads that mug. “I’m voting Labour.” There is plenty to object to about the mug, as Stephen has brilliantly explained. And there is another dimension too: it is a Ukip dream – “comedy gold,” as a senior Ukip source puts it.

The reason is simple. Any discussion of immigration helps Ukip, by raising the salience of the issue in voters’ minds – “it is our key breakout issue,” the Ukip figure says.

Talking about immigration legitimises Ukip. If even the political class accepts that immigration is such a problem, voters might think, Ukip really do have a point. If you are right to worry about immigration and feel let down by the last Labour government not imposing transition controls on Eastern Europe in 2004, and equally angry about the Conservative Party’s spectacular failure to make good on David Cameron’s promise to reduce immigration to “tens of thousands” then voting for Ukip seems completely rational. As Ed Miliband is opposed to a referendum on the current terms of Britain’s membership of the European Union, Labour’s stance is even more muddled. A vote for Labour is now a vote to address the ‘problem’ of immigration – except it’s one that, because the party does not want out of the EU, it is admitting that it cannot address. It’s the sort of slapdash policy that the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, preventing opposition parties from being caught cold about the date of an election, should have consigned to history.

As I have argued before, the way to tackle Ukip lies in compelling policies to address education, housing and jobs: convince the electorate that you can tackle these problems, and clamping down on immigration seems altogether less pressing. Belatedly the message has got to the Conservative Party. When David Cameron outlined his six priorities in January immigration was conspicuous by its absence. Ukip have not nosedived since (the reasons for their success go much deeper than immigration) but the party’s support has ticked down as it has received less publicity. It is a lesson that whoever produced Labour’s anti-immigration mugs has not learned.

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But the real boon to Ukip might not be in five weeks but in five years. Ukip will not win many seats this May, but the party could come second in up to 100 constituencies, giving it a base from which to launch a further electoral assault at the next election – the “2020 strategy”.

Most of Ukip’s second placed finishes will be in seats that Labour wins, especially in the north. Five years of a Miliband government – ideally, for Ukip purposes, propped up by the SNP – could create a perfect storm for Ukip. If the economy struggles, it will invite more Labour voters to defect.

Obviously Labour will hope that this scenario does not materialise. Yet a thriving economy will – perversely – leave Labour open to fresh attack from Ukip. If the economy ticks up, it is certain that, just as has happened in the last two years, immigration will rise with it; a rising number of immigrants are both a cause and effect of economic growth.

So if Labour can go into the next election able to prove that the apocalyptic fears of the economy under Ed Miliband did not materialise, they will still have stoked up trouble for themselves. Miliband’s Labour will join the burgeoning list of UK political parties to over-promise and under-deliver on immigration. Ukip, we can be sure, will not be shy to remind voters – and Labour will have further cause to regret failing to challenge the rightward shift on immigration this Parliament. Those mugs could cost Labour this May and far beyond.

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