Odd, isn’t it, that even with Google, you can lose a press article that you clearly remember seeing. There was an excellent piece in the Indy recently (that’s not a sentence I write very often!) about Labour’s complacency over the UKIP threat, and can I hell find it? No I can’t. But here’s an earlier and not dissimilar one.
Of course the conventional view is that UKIP is no more than “The Conservative Party in exile”, in Peter Oborne’s resonant but highly misleading phrase. Indeed we’re characterised as the rest home for the most fuddy-duddy ex-Tories who just can’t stomach David Cameron’s “modernising” agenda (remember that?). So Labour certainly did look on with quiet satisfaction at what they saw as yet another division in the Tory ranks – and one that would help to deliver a Labour victory in the General Election of 2015. (Miliband in Downing Street – what a nightmare!).
And of course the Tories are frantically talking up the same story. “Don’t vote UKIP”, they cry, “You’ll only let Ed Miliband into Downing Street. Then you’ll lose the EU referendum that Dave has promised in 2017”. Hands up everyone who honestly believes that Dave will deliver an EU referendum in 2017. No? I thought not.
Clearly these pundits (and Tory activists) were not up there in the Rotherham by-election last year. I was. And I was gripped by a warm flush of nostalgia, because in 1966, as a newish member of Procter & Gamble’s marketing department, I was packed off to Rotherham to do my six months sales training. I lived at No 1 Alma Road, overlooking the steel works. Every week I cleaned my salesman’s Cortina, and every week by the time I reached the boot, the bonnet was already lightly covered in smuts from the furnaces again. How times change.
But I can honestly say that during fifteen years in politics I have never had such a warm reception on the doorstep. In Rotherham. In Labour heartland. Of course Labour won it, with 46% of the vote. But UKIP came a good solid second with 21.7% — a country mile ahead of the rest. And of course we’ve had a whole series of remarkable by-election results in strong Labour seats. Something very special is happening.
Our own polling shows that we’re now taking share as much from Labour as from the Tories. We’ve even taken votes from the Lib-Dems – half a million votes, as some accounts say. Sensible former Lib-Dems has switched from “The Party of In” to the Party of Out – without even a short stop in a half-way house like the Tories or Labour.
But by making the immigration issue our own, by pointing to the harm done to working class voters by mass immigration, the pressure on schools and hospitals and housing, the lengthening dole queues, the wage compression, we’ve struck a particular chord with traditional Labour voters. Be afraid, Miliband. Be very afraid. Look out of the window. Those are UKIP’s tanks on your lawn.
The obituaries of the terms “left” and “right” in politics have been written many times, though occasionally they still have a value. But they mean less and less. So when we in UKIP say “We’re not left, not right, just common sense” we communicate with all sides of political opinion.
The fact is that in the Conservative Party there are good, decent people who believe in their country, in their right to self-determination, and are profoundly unhappy at the way our right to govern ourselves has been eroded. But such people also exist just as much in the Labour Party, which is increasingly the party not of working people, but the party of public employees and a sneering urban “intelligentsia” and commentariat. After all, Miliband himself is the Oxford-educated son of a Marxist historian. What a pedigree. And as we are seeing, there is a residue of decent, patriotic people in the Lib-Dems as well – and they too are coming our way.
So UKIP finds itself in a strong position, with a message that resonates right across the political spectrum. Labour and Conservative both like to talk about “One Nation Politics”. But while they talk about it – we’re doing it.