Labour cannot afford to be complacent about UKIP….
Much joy filled the Labour Twitterverse last night at the news of UKIP passing the Liberal Democrats into third place in the latest YouGov poll. Given the current position of the Liberal Democrats, propping up a hated Conservative administration, it’s not surprising that Labour activists should feel this way. Also, from this point of view, there is the added bonus that a heightened UKIP vote can and often does adversely affect the Conservative vote. So, UKIP are a giant and growing stone that kills both the opposition birds for Labour. Surely there is no bad here?
In the short-term, it maybe true that the rise of UKIP will only benefit Labour. However, that is only true in the short-term, a look into the longer-term reveals an awful lot of bad. Firstly, some Labour tweeters were correctly noting that the comparative program of the Liberal Democrats and UKIP, even by Coalition-standards, is not exactly heartening for progressive politics and while it maybe true that UKIP are merely taking the Liberal Democrats place as the main vehicle of voter protest, it can be scarcely a good thing if the form of that protest takes a rightward tilt. If it does, the pressure on the main Parties, yes the Conservatives, but Labour also, will be to move to the right. Labour members dreaming of a march to the left will thus find these dreams harder and harder to realise.
The rise of UKIP also shows that the prevalent ‘anti-politics’ mood has a very strong right-wing and potentially authoritarian twist; indeed, given the decline of the left, a lurch to the right looks the more likely outcome of the economic crisis right now than a glorious final push towards socialist nirvana. Indeed, the political space occupied by UKIP on issues like immigration and Europe is probably one that can, given some anti-corporate fine tuning, span the social divide between totally neglected and alienated core Labour areas and the increasingly embattled and impoverished leafy suburban areas that the Conservatives like to call their own. At the moment, UKIP lacks the organisational clout to build that bridge and therefore is naturally focusing most of its efforts on hiving-off Conservative votes, but with growth and momentum that is something that could easily change. This is especially true if Labour were to enter power. In that situation I think you would see UKIP expand and grow very quickly in core Labour areas.
This is the crux of the potentially fatal mistake made by the jubilant Labour Twitterati, to assume that something that is presently true will always be so and that UKIP will always be the protest Party that mainly cripples our political opponents. A strong possibility exists that once the UKIP-Genie is out of the bottle it won’t be put back in and, working in tandem with the Conservative right, it could form an alliance, feeding off ‘anti-politics’ negativity, that crushes the left for an awful long time. So, my advice to those that celebrated last night is not to underestimate UKIP and certainly lets not celebrate their successes as if they were our own, they most certainly are not.