Two academics have written a book about the rise of UKIP. One of them (I’m not sure if it was Robert Ford from the University of Manchester, or Matthew Goodwin from the University of Nottingham) was on the Today Programme recently, and it struck me that he was the first academic or commentator who has actually “Got it” with regard to UKIP.
The lazy leftist press – the Guardian and the Indy – plus some other newspapers who should know better — have an ossified mind-set which sees UKIP as merely a repository for disaffected Tory voters. Retired Colonels from Tunbridge Wells who are furious about straight bananas or same-sex marriage, or elderly accountants who can no longer stomach the metropolitan élite aura of the Prime Minister and his kitchen cabinet. Or his Cabinet cabinet, come to that. Even Peter Oborne, usually incisive and perceptive, has described UKIP as “The Conservative Party in exile”. He could hardly be more wrong.
Readers will point out that I should be the last person to argue this case, because I am, after all, a former Conservative MEP (although my views on Europe, and on climate, while strongly backed by local Conservatives in the East Midlands, were anathema to the Tory High Command). But then my UKIP Regional Chairman Alan Graves is a former Labour Councillor, and all the better for that.
Our own polling shows that we draw much of our support from former Labour voters. Some even from lib-Dems (not all of whom share Nick Clegg’s €urophilia). But up to 20% of our vote comes from non-voters – people who haven’t voted for ten years, or twenty years, or ever. They’d written off the old parties as not worth voting for. But they see UKIP as different, authentic – neither left nor right, but common-sense. They see a party where politicians actually say what they think. Of course that sometimes gets us into scrapes which are headlined in the Guardian. But it convinces the voters that we mean what we say. There is no hidden agenda,. We genuinely believe that our constituents will be Better Off Out. And we have the courage to say so.
This proposition is borne out by our recent by-election experience. In our first break-through by-election, in Corby, (our candidate Margot Parker is now #2 on our East Mids euro-list) we came third over-all, but in the Labour-dominated heartland of Corby town, we came second. In the Tory rural areas we also came second. In Eastleigh, where we so nearly won, we beat both Tory and Labour (and had the campaign run a few more days, we believe we should have beaten the Lib-Dems too – we surely would today). We had stunning successes in South Shields, in Bradford and in Rotherham – Labour heartland areas where our message went down a storm on the doorstep.
The ossified mind-set sees our position on immigration – one of our strongest issues on the doorstep – as “right-wing”. But immigration is an issue for the traditional working-class Labour voter. As Immigration Minister James Brokenshire has carelessly admitted (and got a roasting for), mass immigration is an advantage for comfortable middle-class folk in leafy suburbs. They get cheap home help and au pairs and car-washes, and attractive Eastern European girls pulling pints in country pubs. If they happen to be company directors, they get a new source of cheap labour.
But for lower-skilled, lower-paid workers, and for the unemployed in the UK, mass immigration means queues of immigrants ahead of them at job applications. It means wage compression and lower pay. It means more crowded schools and surgeries and hospitals. It means more competition for social housing. Immigration is (or should be) a left-wing issue, and former Labour voters will take a long time to forgive the Labour Party for its deliberate policy of driving mass immigration to “rub the noses of the Right in diversity” and to make irreversible changes in British society. I was campaigning with our North East team in Blyth, Northumberland at the weekend – again, Labour heartland – and I was astonished by the positive reaction we found.
That’s why we see ourselves as the Heineken Party – reaching the parts that other parties cannot reach. Doing well in Tory areas, yes, but also in Labour and Lib-Dem areas. Ford and Goodwin recognise this as a new phenomenon. They identify a broad swathe of voters who feel disaffected from the old parties and the old political process – voters who find UKIP’s straight talking and common sense a breath of fresh air.
But given that they recognise that UKIP appeals not just to former Tories, but across the board, why oh why did they revert to type in their title, and call it “Revolt on the Right”, for heaven’s sake? Why not “Revolt across the piece”?
One key group in politics has still not quite realised that UKIP is more than a party for disaffected Tories, and that group is (of course) the Labour Party. So we have a message for Ed Miliband. Be afraid. Be very afraid.