(UKIP leader Nigel Farage campaigning in the east of England last year – see ITV News report)
Mitch Mitchell reports from Cambridgeshire, where UKIP scored strongly, in the first of a series of snapshots from anti-UKIP activists around the country.
I recently wrote a piece about the rise of UKIP in Fenland, where I live. Since then we’ve had council and Euro elections – and sadly, I find I’m living in the constituency that gave UKIP its strongest support. Over 540,000 people in the East of England voted for them and they gained a seat at the expense of the Tories.
The UKIP vote was strongest in Norfolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire. But support was not so evident in Bedfordshire or Herts. Why is this? Norwich, apart, Norfolk has a tradition of Tory voting. Cambridgeshire also generally votes Tory, although Julian Huppert, MP for the city of Cambridge, is a Liberal Democrat. Recent opinion polls show that his days in Westminster may be numbered.
Bedfordshire, in contrast, includes Luton – one of the few southern places where Labour kept their seats outside of London at the 2010 general election. Hertfordshire had several Labour MPs prior to 2010, and there’s still large pools of Labour support in parts of the county. Essex voters are known for switching their allegiances between Tories and Labour. Whoever wins key Essex seats usually forms the government.
So who is voting UKIP? Many of course are ex-BNP and NF supporters looking to place their racist votes where they think they will be the most effective. UKIP also takes votes from all three major parties: though from the Tories much more than Labour.
But turnout was 36%, paltry though typical of Euro elections. So about 9% of the total electorate voted UKIP. It could well be that the decisive factor on this occasion was that UKIP were better at getting their supporters out than Labour.
Setting the agenda
UKIP has moved beyond a joke – it now feels like it’s setting the political agenda. Their views are repugnant to us on the left, but they chime with many who have declare themselves “fed up with politics”. And the mainstream parties react by triangulating their manifestos, trying to prove themselves just as “radical” as Farage’s crew.
Meanwhile the far right is divided between the BNP, now taken an increasingly open racist and fascist direction, and UKIP are considerably more circumspect with their bile. Plus there’s a new organisation calling itself Britain First. This mob are funded by and set up by Jim Dowson, who used to run the Belfast operation for BNP. They consist of ex-squaddies and try to appeal to the sort of people who like Help For Heroes.
But opposition to fascists is also splintering. Many are suspicious of UAF and the political direction it is moving in. Meanwhile down in Brighton we see new tactics and organisation, ones that avoid being kettled in pens and put people on the streets in large numbers to confront fascists. When it comes to dealing with groups like the EDL and their splinters, I think this is the right approach.
However, dealing with UKIP is another matter. We need coordinated strategy to oppose them from the socialist left. I’m all in favour of shouting at its leaders and candidates. They are peddling racist poison and need to be branded as racists.
But ordinary supporters are a different matter. Instead of haranguing potential UKIP voters, we have to be prepared to talk with them rationally – and be armed with facts, hard evidence, to win them away from anti-immigrant racism. Most UKIP voters are not hardened or committed racists. There has been a bandwagon effect stirred up by the mainstream political system: both the parties and the media.
At the end of the day the turnout issue has to be addressed. UKIP voters turn out because they have something to vote for. Where’s the left wing alternative that can inspire our side?