It’s been almost one month since the General Election so by now everyone would have had time to digest the result and accept the outcome of a Conservative majority. It was a particularly interesting outcome given the fact it wasn’t actually predicted by anyone. No doubt many at Labour HQ are still scratching their heads and working out what went wrong.
One thing my social media feed has been a buzz with this week though is the apparent demise of one party following the result. Indeed, many think this is the end of Nigel Farage and his Eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP). “They’ve peaked”, one insists. Suddenly, concerns over immigration have vanished, nobody wants a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union and they are satisfied that the make-up of Westminster represents them and ordinary people. Of course this isn’t actually the case though. If anything, the fact the party achieved 3.8 million votes yet only returned a single MP is likely to bolster support not dent it.
So going forward, Nigel Farage is likely to play some if not a significant role. With an EU referendum less than 2 years away and further cuts promised to net immigration figures, he’s likely to pop up on our TV screens more and more. And what’s significant is how Labour last week announced it would support a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union despite arguing in the run-up to the General Election that it wouldn’t be in the UK’s interest. I suspect over the course of the next few months, the party in general will be reflecting on what it said, did and done over Ed Miliband’s time in office and changing its strategy.
What the real reflection will have to be on however is why UKIP didn’t do what it was meant to do for Labour – that being, get them into government. It has always been known that a minority of disgruntled working-class voters would back UKIP who should be voting Labour, but it was supposed to be those retired, half kernels living on the edge of Salisbury Plain who traditionally vote Conservative that would clinch victory for the socialists.
Yet this didn’t happen. And the working class appears to now be divided in its support. Keir Hardie’s party which was set up to champion workers and working people, now cannot be a home for millions of those people. So what’s gone wrong? Many constituencies who returned Labour MPs actually increased the number of voters they got and/or their vote share, but many of the voters Labour needed to win over in the key constituencies to secure a victory actually ended up going elsewhere – largely to UKIP. Collapsing Liberal Democrat and British National Party support went to UKIP, while younger, newer potential Labour voters ended up with the Greens. Then, there’s the non-voters who once again turned out for UKIP and those in Scotland who wanted the SNP. So why didn’t they back Labour?
The question is difficult to answer but I think the divisions north and south of the border present a good lens for analysis. The SNP are winning voters in Scotland consumed in nationalism around left-leaning values and a desire to see the welfare state strengthened, but in England, UKIP voters are consumed in right-leaning values and a desire for there to be a clampdown on so-called benefit “scroungers”. One thing unites both the SNP and UKIP: their loathing of the Westminster establishment.
How Labour reacts and who they intend to target is going to be crucial. If they are to go after those voters in England who feel globalisation works against them and despise the European institutions who have braced them with mass immigration, then they are hardly going to appease those voters in Scotland who don’t particularly care about immigration and want Britain to stay in Europe.
And if you throw age into the mix, it becomes an even bigger party dilemma. Younger voters are switching to the Greens and SNP, seeking more progressive politics, but older voters want a re-invigoration of the Commonwealth and a return to Britain’s old Empire roots.
These issues have the potential to put the party out of power for one or maybe even two general elections. Whether it’s Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall or Mary Creagh, whoever takes over at the helm needs a strategy that will connect both disgruntled voters on the left and right of the spectrum, who are under 20 and over 60, and who live in Scotland and England. All of that, on top of attracting newer voters from “middle England”. If I were Labour I’d be pretty worried right now.