Labour have been in denial about threats from UKIP. Those threats are real, are not going away and must be faced and tackled. That’s the message from a new report from Dan Jarvis, MP for Barnsley Central.
Dan was commissioned by Andy Burnham to report on how we win back the voters we’ve lost to UKIP. He has now published his report – Reconnecting Labour.
It does not make comfortable reading. But it reinforces many of the messages we’ve already received from Ashcroft’s analyses, and from the TUC’s work on the May election result.
You can read the full report here
As the executive summary states
“We have lost our connection with millions of people. The onus is now on us to show tat we are listening, learning the lessons of defeat and that we are willing to act on them if we are to win back their confidence.’
Below we provide an edited version highlighting its main points.
The report is full of salutary facts and statistics which should act as a warning.
‘UKIP may only have retained a single seat, but it cost Labour many constituencies we needed to win back and contributed to our defeat in several communities we never expected to lose. This was despite local UKIP campaigns that were often underfunded and amateur in their presentation and execution.
Our country faces many challenges today, but the greatest obstacle we face is the increasingly widespread belief that our problems have outgrown our politics. Many have lost faith in the idea that politics of any colour can make a positive difference to their lives.
Just under 4 million people voted for UKIP on Polling Day – a 9.5% increase on its vote in 2010. This gave it 13% of the popular vote and a clear third place finish on the basis of votes cast. UKIP won its first parliamentary seat at a General Election, and underlined this with 120 second place results across the country – from Merthyr Tydfil in Wales to Middlesbrough in the North East, and Folkestone on the south coast.’
UKIP poses a threat to Labour in a number of ways.
First – a populist threat
‘Labour was challenged in our Traditional Heartlands. These are Labour-held seats – often constituencies we have represented for generations – where UKIP has significantly cut into our support.
There was an average swing to UKIP across all Labour-held seats of more than 10%.
This trend was particularly strong in post-industrial communities north of Birmingham. It is important to note it extended to Wales as well as England.
With the Tories still weak in many of these areas, the collapse of the Liberal Democrats created a vacuum that UKIP was able to fill. This allowed UKIP to finish second place in 44 Labour-held constituencies and position itself as our foremost challenger over the coming years. Indeed, senior UKIP figures have made no secret of their ‘2020 Strategy’ to target Labour-held seats in northern England.
Labour must ensure we are ready to respond – especially in constituencies where our activists have not had to face significant political opposition for many years.
Second – in our Marginal Battlegrounds.
The second trend was across the knife-edge battleground constituencies throughout England and Wales that decide who governs Britain and which helped shape the outcome of this General Election.
This was a very broad category including seats of many shapes and sizes. What they had in common is that they were communities where UKIP has proved capable of taking significant numbers of votes from both Labour and the Conservatives.
UKIP achieved a swing of 10% or greater in more than a third of the 106 key seats we were targeting in order to form a government. It took votes from the Tories, Labour, absorbed a sizeable chunk of the former Lib Dem vote and brought together a broader ‘none of the above’ protest vote that included some non-voters.
Some evidence suggests that the Tories were much more effective in squeezing the UKIP vote in these marginals. Labour typically did 4% worse in the areas where support for UKIP increased the most, compared to a 2% fall in support for the Tories.
The impact this had was well-summed up by UKIP’s candidate in Warwickshire North – a must-win constituency where Labour needed to overturn a majority of 54. The Tories held the seat and increased their majority to nearly 3,000 votes.
‘The reason the Tories have won the key battleground of the Midlands is that UKIP came to their rescue,’ said William Cash. ‘We rode into the flanks of the white working class and captured them. I had Tory workers coming up and hugging me.’
As well as blocking Labour gains, UKIP contributed to Labour defeats. There was a 12% average swing to UKIP across the nine seats that the Conservatives gained from Labour across England & Wales. This was above the national average, but only slightly. It was still enough to make the difference in nine close contests decided by a total of just 8,000 votes. Arguably the most painful example was Morley & Outwood, where it was local UKIP campaigners who first raised the prospect of Labour losing the seat. This was based on their own canvass returns before the ballot boxes had even been opened at the count.
Third – Southern Retreat:
The third trend has received less attention since Polling Day, but is arguably more alarming for Labour’s future as a national party with reach across the country.
There has been a significant growth in support for UKIP in southern areas where Labour has been very competitive in the recent past. These are typically constituencies across the South East and East of England that helped build the majorities won by Labour in 1997, 2001 and 2005. Many of them are commuter areas and New Towns.
The Tories won these seats back in 2010 and held them in 2015 – many with increased majorities. The concern however is that UKIP is encroaching on Labour as the main challenger party in these areas. In extreme cases, UKIP has succeeded in pushing us into third place in seats that had Labour MPs as recently as five years ago.
It was UKIP rather than Labour that came second in 75 Tory constituencies largely across the South East, South West and East of England in 2015. That included more than half of the 35 seats across Kent and Essex – two counties that returned 14 Labour MPs in 1997.
Fourth – Coastal communities:
The marked growth in support for UKIP in seaside communities over recent years also deserves particular attention.
UKIP’s rise in ports and seaside towns cuts across the wider political trends identified in this report. It ranges from Traditional Heartlands like Hartlepool, to Marginal Battlegrounds like Plymouth and Great Yarmouth, and areas of Southern Retreat like Clacton and South Thanet– both of which elected Labour MPs within the last decade.
Coastal areas provide a cocktail of the key factors fuelling support for populist parties of protest – including a significant proportion of older voters. Research published by the Office of National Statistics has shown the majority of seaside towns has higher levels of deprivation than the country as a whole.
Many have been hit harshly by the forces of globalisation and economic change – from the decline of local fishing industries to the impact of cheaper foreign holidays on domestic tourism. Issues like underdeveloped transport infrastructure can help fuel a sense of being ‘left behind’ or forgotten ‘at the end of the railway line.’
There are as many as 20 coastal communities among the 95 constituencies that Labour needs to win back in order to win a majority in 2020.
Overall, UKIP is serving as a barometer of Labour’s wider shortcomings. Its advance has especially shown that Labour’s support among blue collar voters is not as strong as it once was.
People who voted UKIP on May 7th were more than twice as likely to think that Labour had ‘lost touch with ordinary people’ as those who supported other rival parties. Moreover, 77% did not think that Labour ‘respects or understands the views of its voters’ – viewing us even more harshly than the Conservatives. Almost a quarter of Labour’s own supporters apparently share the same view.
Jon Cruddas’s research into the General Election defeat has confirmed how Labour was deserted by socially conservative voters from largely lower income households. Support from these voters dropped by 9% compared to our last victory in 2005, with UKIP the chief beneficiary. Perceptions about Labour’s stance on issues like immigration and welfare contributed to our party losing support to the Tories as well as UKIP.
With the majority of UKIP’s support coming from older voters, the rise of Farage’s party also underlines Labour’s troubles with the silver vote. Labour won the support of only one in four people aged over 65 – the group most likely to turnout at election time. The Tories won two million more votes from people over the age of 65, which was greater than their overall margin of victory.
Building a Labour Response
There are no quick fixes or silver bullet solutions for stemming the rising UKIP tide. Many people have turned to UKIP due to long-held frustrations with Labour and the wider political establishment. There is little evidence to suggest they will return swiftly or easily.
The challenge ahead for Labour is to build an effective response based on listening and genuine engagement, rooted in the realities facing these communities.
We will not repel UKIP or the populist brand of politics it represents by trying to ‘out-UKIP UKIP’ and simply taking a tougher line on Europe. Nor should Labour lurch to the left in search of answers that make ourselves feel better but do nothing for the people who have lost faith in us.
Labour must have a compelling story to tell about who we are as a party, what we are about, and the kind of country we aspire to build. This may have seemed obvious to us in the past, but it is not to a great many people living across Britain today.
Complaints that people do not know what Labour represents are common on the doorstep. This is also reflected in wider surveys. More than half of people do not think it is clear ‘what Labour stands for’ – a view held by as many as three out every four UKIP voters. Less than a quarter of people surveyed feel the same is true of the Conservatives.
We need to offer reassurance on voters’ key concerns – particularly around immigration and welfare
Significantly large numbers of people are drawn to UKIP due to anxieties about immigration. The overwhelming majority of UKIP voters on May 7th ranked ‘controlling immigration’ as one of the most important issue facing the country (87%) and their own family (68%).
There is also overlap with concerns about the welfare system and benefit dependency. These have been consistently ranked amongst the biggest concerns of voters drawn to UKIP.
Labour must offer reassurance on concerns about work and immigration as the starting point for winning back the trust of UKIP-leaning voters. Otherwise we will struggle to win a hearing on anything else.
This also applies to our efforts to reconnect with sections of the wider public. More than half of people who considered voting Labour thought the party needed to be tougher on immigration and ‘abuse of the welfare system,’ according to research published by the TUC.
On immigration, it is important to stress however that Labour does not need to follow UKIP’s pursuit of an unappealing and unworkably hard-line policy. The think tank British Future estimates that as many as half of UKIP supporters hold attitudes to migration that they describe as in ‘The Anxious Middle.’ This is in line with the majority of public opinion, appreciating that large-scale immigration can bring both pressures and benefits. This group is not opposed to immigration, but wants reassurance that it is controlled and in Britain’s best economic interests.
This suggests that there is a sizeable number of UKIP voters that Labour can win back, with a smart approach to managing migration that is fair and true to our values.
Our tone is just as important as our policy. Labour’s challenge is to convince the British people that we care as much about issues like competent management of our borders, tackling illegal immigration and ending the exploitation of migrant workers as we do about improving our schools and hospitals.
Policy proposals, such as an intelligent approach to managing migration and increased EU funding for communities that have been particularly pressurised by migration, are worthy of further debate within the party.
As well as economic and resource aspects to migration, Labour must not shy away from having a voice in the debate about cultural impacts and the importance of integration.
Valuing contribution, by requiring people to work for a period of time before they can claim benefits, should also be in keeping with Labour’s broader policy of ensuring that people are always best off through work.
As the party who created the Welfare State, Labour will always be about looking out for the vulnerable and providing every support to those who need it. By 2020, all voters should know that when it comes to Labour’s attitudes to work, the clue is in the name. If you can work, you must.
We should be seen as the party of employment – supporting business, championing fairness in the workplace, strengthening employment rights, encouraging growth and jobs, cementing Britain’s place in the global marketplace – showing that Labour is working.
Spreading economic opportunity – especially to communities that feel ‘left behind’
Most UKIP voters are notably pessimistic about their prospects in Britain today. 82% of those who voted for Farage’s party on May 7th said they were not feeling the benefits of economic recovery. More than half said they did not expect to either.
This reflects a great number of people who feel forgotten and left behind by the nature of our economy today. Many live in areas that have been harshly hit by globalisation or work in industries where new technologies have impacted on jobs, pay and conditions.
Where UKIP has preyed on this despair, Labour must offer new hope for the future. This must be built upon fiscal responsibility and credible management of the public finances. Research carried out by the TUC showed that fears Labour ‘would spend too much and couldn’t be trusted with the economy’ were shared by UKIP voters just as much as by people who voted for other parties.
Labour’s alternative should include an industrial strategy for creating good, skilled, well-paying jobs, and ensuring the rewards of a growing economy reach all corners of our country. It must also be relevant to the local challenges that specific communities are facing. For instance, investment in green technologies such as offshore wind is creating new industries in former fishing ports like Grimsby and Great Yarmouth. Many of the skilled jobs created however are beyond the reach of many local people.
With support for UKIP weighted towards people who left school earlier or with fewer qualifications, Labour must be able to offer answers on education and skills to help people compete for the jobs of the future.
Labour should also be the champion for the self-employed and entrepreneurs carving out a living for themselves as small business owners – a significant number of whom have been drawn to UKIP.
Reclaiming our mantle as a patriotic party
Nigel Farage has defined UKIP as the only party that ‘Believes in Britain.’ As a party with a proud and patriotic tradition, Labour cannot and should not let that stand.
Labour should have a strong voice in shaping the debate about what it means to be British today, rather than ceding this space to the political Right.
At a time when devolution, the future of our national constitution, our diversity, the nature of our communities, our shared identities and Britain’s place in the world are all being discussed, these are not second order issues that Labour can ignore.
People who defined themselves as ‘English’ were nearly twice as likely to support UKIP as those who said they were ‘British.’31 This is relevant when considering that the fear a Labour government would be ‘bossed around by Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish nationalists’ was the third biggest doubt UKIP voters had about voting Labour.
The TUC/GQRR’s post-election research also found that voters would prefer Labour to ‘be more patriotic and do more to promote British identity’ over ‘keeping flag- waving out of politics’ by a margin of around two to one. UKIP voters in 2015 also considered issues of patriotism and national identity much more important than the rest of the electorate, ranking it as the fourth most important issue.
Labour should have confidence to put forward our vision for what Great Britain is and what it can be, as a proud alternative to Farage’s flawed picture of Britain as it was.
There is an opportunity to express this in the campaign for Britain’s continued membership of the European Union. We should not only consider the risks for jobs and workers’ rights that an exit from Europe would bring, but celebrate the positive difference that our country has made on the world stage and talk about how our continued membership will help build a better Britain.
As Jamie Reed and others have said, embracing our English identity has an important part to play in this.
A distinct message for older voters
More than half of the UKIP vote came from people over the age of 50, exacerbating Labour’s broader weaknesses with silver voters.36 This is an issue that must be addressed – especially as by 2020 40% of voters will be over the age of 50 and there will be 1.6 million additional voters over the age of 65.
Labour must have more to offer older voters than we did in 2015, and a specific message for those inclined towards UKIP. Just as with younger voters, this will need to offer reassurance on areas they are concerned about in order to win a hearing for our policies to improve services such as pensions, social care, accessible transport and the NHS.
Revitalising CLPs – especially in our traditional heartlands, where many of them have small memberships and are unused to campaigning against opposition.
Listening & Language
Labour should consider piloting a specific doorstep strategy for how we engage with UKIP voters – just as the ‘Barking Model’ was developed to counter the BNP in East London.
Many people inclined towards UKIP are disenchanted with Labour and feel disconnected from politics in general. Around 80% of UKIP supporters surveyed believe that the government does not ‘care much what people like me think,’ which is significantly higher than the general population. They are also much more likely to agree that ‘people like me don’t have any say about what the government does.’
This is reflected in local experience. Labour campaigners report that conversations with UKIP-leaning voters are often among the longest and most challenging.
Labour should consider running sustained listening campaigns in areas where this is a particular issue, in an effort to reconnect with these communities and build rapport over time.
More candidates with ‘real-life experience’
Labour needs to open up our party to more candidates with life experience away from Westminster. We have long been ahead of the other parties on this, but the General Election highlighted why we cannot rest on our laurels.
The 2015 intake of Tory MPs included three former servicemen and an increased cohort of ten former NHS workers. The Parliamentary Labour Party meanwhile is currently without any former GPs or nurses, has no disabled representation and a shrinking number of MPs with experience of working in manual professions.
There were still sizeable swings to UKIP in seats with excellent Labour candidates from a diverse range of backgrounds, so this is not a silver bullet solution. Our policies will have greater resonance on the doorstep however if they are conveyed by authentic people with local credibility. This applies to council candidates as well as Westminster elections.
With that in mind, we should breathe new life into initiatives like the Future Candidates Programme. We should also pursue good ideas that have been suggested like a bursary scheme for candidates who would otherwise be priced out of politics.’
His final words
‘Labour has always been about putting our values into action so people can succeed in a changing world. Nigel Farage’s success, by contrast, has been built on airing grievances with how the world is changing and pretending we can solve them by going back to an easier time. But we will not help Britain succeed tomorrow by yearning for yesterday.
Rather than longing for the world as it was, Labour should lead the debate about what our country is today, and offer a brighter vision for what it could be in the future.
This is important not only in winning back the support of UKIP voters, but in winning again against the Conservatives as well. If Labour cannot produce a vision for our country’s future that is more attractive, credible and optimistic than the pessimism offered by Nigel Farage, then we won’t defeat David Cameron or whoever comes after him.
The rise of UKIP is therefore a test for Labour. We must prove that we are equal to it. The British people are telling us something. Now we have to show that we have heard them and will act. ‘