Labour party strategists are advising their activists to steer doorstep conversations away from immigration and on to healthcare and housing, in an attempt to win back Ukip waverers next May. The advice comes in a 33 page document, entitled Campaigning against Ukip, leaked to the Telegraph, making it clear that Labour is concerned about the Ukip threat in the north.
Although the document lays out current Labour policy on immigration, it also warns against fighting Ukip “on their terms”, as Labour will “not win a bidding war on the issue”. Instead, it suggests steering the conversation onto the NHS: “above all, we must remind potential UKIP supporters of the threat UKIP poses to the NHS in their local area and encourage them to think more about this, and other areas of Labour Party policy, than immigration”, the document advises.
Labour activists have reacted angrily to the advice, accusing their leadership of running scared. “I think this must be an April Fools’ Day pack because not campaigning on immigration is exactly what Ukip wants us to do,” said Frank Field, a former welfare minister.
Meanwhile, a Labour spokesman has attempted to downplay the document, saying “This story is nonsense. This is a 33-page document in which the Daily Telegraph is interested in taking only a few lines out of context.
“This document sets out clearly how candidates and activists will explain our policies on immigration and seek to explain how they fit into an overall vision for a country that works for everyday working people not just a few.”
However, the level of thought and detail that has gone into producing the document makes it clear that Labour are indeed becoming rattled by Ukip. Highlighting the “victories in Clacton and Rochester & Strood behind them, as well as a very close second in Heywood & Middleton,” the document reports that “it is now clear that UKIP expect to poll strongly in many Labour-held constituencies and key seat targets which we need to win from the Conservatives.
“UKIP has shown it can now both put together a strong field operation and draw substantial support with next to no local activity,” it continues. “It is therefore crucial that there is a clear strategy to fight them in the constituencies where or local MPs or the party believe there to be a threat.”
Further into the document, detailed polling reveals the demographic most likely to have switched from Labour to Ukip: males, aged 47-66, employed in low skilled work / unemployed / low prospects, living in Yorkshire.
The document makes it clear that Labour believes their best chance of success lies in creating their own agenda – what they call changing the “salience of the issues”. Therefore, immigration will only be mentioned in conjunction with other issues, such as housing or the NHS, on which Labour believes it has a better chance of appealing to the electorate. The plan is to “raise the salience of those issues in which Labour has a much clearer lead”.
But the plan has not gone down well with those expected to deliver it. One MP, who was given the document for campaigning purposes in his constituency, said “We are trying to massage the relationship between us and the electorate in the hope that they won’t notice that we’ve been weak in this area. It is just a sad state of affairs.”