Andy Cunningham reports from Lancashire on a divided race between Labour and the racist right.
You couldn’t have missed Nigel Farage if you’d taken a drive round Bolton and Bury in the run-up to 22 May elections. His faintly ridiculous but always fury-inspiring face was plastered on every other bill board. UKIP poured resources into south Lancashire and the outskirts of Manchester in a bid to show that they “take votes from all the major parties”.
In local election terms, the strategy didn’t pay off. In Bolton and Oldham UKIP gained two councillors, but it failed to break through elsewhere. This contrasts with their second placing in the Euro elections in the North West, winning 482,000 votes to Labour’s 594,000. This gave Labour and UKIP three seats each, with the Tories taking the North other two.
So why the difference? Despite the bluster, UKIP takes the biggest share of its vote from the Tories. You can see the same pattern in Chorley, Bolton, Preston and Oldham – UKIP votes are significantly higher in traditional Tory wards.
Labour was shored up by voters returning from the Lib Dems and the motivation of its traditional supporters to oppose UKIP racism. That meant in a lot of places Tory council seats went to Labour, who came through the middle to win.
Most of the councils up for election this time were in traditional industrial areas. This perhaps explains the difference in terms of the European votes: in areas such as the Ribble Valley, Bowland, Cumbria and Cheshire, UKIP either topped the polls or came a close second to Labour or the Tories.
There are a number of conclusions to draw. First: a good section of the right vote that has traditionally gone to the Tories or the BNP was cast this time round for UKIP. Some of this vote will hold up for the general election next year, but I suspect quite a lot of that will plump for the Tories as a safer right wing choice.
Second: a minority of UKIP’s Euro votes will have come from traditional Labour voters (I’ve experienced this anecdotally within my personal networks) but these are unlikely to translate into general election votes. They should be seen as a racist vote in the exceptional circumstances of a Euro election, rather than a mass conversion to the super-Toryism of UKIP.
We have two key arguments to win within the working class over the next year – that UKIP are the Tories on steroids rather than being some sort of radical alternative; that immigrants are our class allies not the problem.
We’ll be helped in this by UKIP’s lack of a base apart from hacked off old Tory activists, compared to the organisations of the broad left. But we will face a challenge to win Labour to a strategy of political confrontation with UKIP – the only way we can shift that is by creating a broad cultural movement that wins the battle over anti-migrant racism and takes the arguments to UKIP supporters.
see also: Farage cleans up in the Fens