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Local elections analysis: UKIP did not ‘surge’, but it is dangerous

By Tash Shifrin | 23 May 2014

UKIP leader Nigel Farage. Pic credit: Jennifer Jane Mills

UKIP leader Nigel Farage. Pic credit: Jennifer Jane Mills

There is good news for antiracists who hate UKIP in today’s local election results. UKIP’s projected national share of the vote has fallen substantially since last year’s county councils vote, dropping from 23% to 17% now.

This is not a “surge” or an “earthquake”, despite the media hype. It is a decline, although clearly UKIP is still polling very strongly and is set to do much better in the European elections, where it will show a big increase on its 2009 performance.

[UPDATE 26 May: there is a brief comment on UKIP’s European results on our European election liveblog]

The projected national share – I have used BBC figures for both years – is important because it is designed to take account of the fact that the elections in each year cover different types of local authority in areas with a different make-up.

It produces a result that aims to show what the figure would have looked like if people had voted in local authorities right across the country, avoiding the sort of bias that emerges if we judge UKIP’s popularity purely by its performance in, say, the relatively prosperous shire counties.

It’s worth treating any projection figures with a slight degree of caution, because they are based on modelling rather than real results, but the UKIP drop is quite stark.

This year’s local elections – projected national share of the vote
Labour: 31%
Conservatives: 29%
UKIP: 17%
Lib Dems: 13%

2013 local elections – projected national share of the vote
Labour 29%
Con 25%
UKIP 23%
Lib Dems 14%

The figures mean that UKIP’s so-called “surge” has been greatly exaggerated in relation to these local polls.

The real surge came last year, when UKIP effectively established itself as the new third party in British politics – and it has maintained that third place today, albeit with a smaller share of the vote. The threat from UKIP has certainly not gone away.

UKIP has sharply increased the its number of local councillors, although it should be noted that last year was the first time UKIP has really taken local government elections seriously. Last time these seats were contested four years ago, UKIP barely bothered.

It is something of a relief to see that Labour’s gains in councillor numbers have run way ahead of UKIP’s – despite Labour’s dire austerity politics and its insipid campaign. At the time of writing, Labour was up by 300 councillors, while UKIP had gained 128. The Tories, and especially the Lib Dems, have lost councillors across most of the country.

London

London has given a decisive thumbs down to UKIP – it is estimated to have scored only about 7% across the capital. There has been a general swing to Labour in London, with a near Lib-Dem wipeout. UKIP has not even made the headway it might have expected in the whiter, and sometimes richer and leafier outer London boroughs.

In Barking and Dagenham, where the fascist British National Party’s 12 councillors were thrown out in 2010, four Labour councillors had shamefully defected to UKIP last year and the racist party stood in every ward. But the defectors were all chucked out by the voters – Barking and Dagenham council is now entirely Labour.

People vote on a different basis in the European Parliament elections, and UKIP is expected to do very well when the results come out. It is likely to score far higher than in 2009.

Anti-racists will now be more hopeful that the racist party does not take first place in the European poll – but we will have to wait and see.

Gains mainly from Tories…

In these local elections, most of UKIP’s gains have been at the expense of the Tories – as well as a slew of seats, the UKIP vote has caused them to lose control of several councils, including four in Essex.

…but some from Labour

But in some areas, UKIP has also attracted votes and taken seats from Labour – this led to Labour narrowly losing control of North East Lincolnshire council for example. Labour also lost control in Thurrock, Essex, after UKIP took seats from both Tories and Labour. And UKIP has become the official opposition in Rotherham, with 10 seats (up nine) to Labour’s 50 (down seven).

A degree of Labour losses to UKIP should not have been unexpected. As we have said here opinion polls in the run-up to the election showed that while just under half of would-be UKIP voters had previously voted Conservative, around 11% were planning to switch from Labour.

In some cases, UKIP will have profited from its raised profile in counties – such as Essex and Lincolnshire – where it did well in the county council elections last year. UKIP became the official opposition in Essex, Lincolnshire, Kent, Cambridgeshire, West Sussex and Norfolk in the aftermath of the 2013 poll.

It is also worth noting that some of UKIP’s gains from Labour have come in places such as Thurrock and Rotherham where the BNP has held council seats and has organised strongly in the past. UKIP has been happy to appeal to former BNP voters.

Revulsion

I would argue it is important to recognise that most of the core working class Labour vote has not been attracted to UKIP, the hard-right racist version of the Tories that is just as fervent in its dedication to making the rich richer.

Tapping into the widespread revulsion at UKIP among Labour voters and trade union members is a key part of the battle to push back the UKIP tide – and undercut the anti-immigrant racism that it encourages.

However, we should not ignore UKIP’s potential to attract a section of Labour voters either. The working class has never been a monolithic bloc – there have always been working class Tory voters. In times of economic hardship especially, people can be pulled to the right as well as to the left.

And UKIP’s racist scapegoating can appeal to those who are feeling the pinch and angry at lack of public housing and cuts to public services.

The arguments against UKIP, and its poisonous scapegoating of immigrants need to be carried among Labour voters too.

Principle

This is not just about elections: it is a matter of principle to oppose racism and bigotry and fight for unity among ordinary people, whether they are black, white or Asian, Muslim or non-Muslim, migrants or not.

The “UKIP effect” is especially pernicious because the party’s gains and increasing prominence as the new third party drag the whole political agenda to the right. Despite the lack of surge, both Tories and Labour are more worried now about UKIP’s threat – and their response has been consistent: tailending UKIP’s agenda and making concessions to its anti-immigrant rhetoric.

I would argue that we should be clear about when UKIP moves ahead and when it moves back. Hysteria and hype are not useful. But nor can we be complacent: the rise of UKIP – and similar racist populist parties across Europe – over the past few years is a dangerous phenomenon. We have to fight it.

Whether or not UKIP succeeds in coming first in the European Parliament elections, socialists and anti-racists need to be ready to take up the arguments against UKIP and its toxic racism and bigotry.



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