The Labour party faces an “existential threat” in the south of England thanks to the continuing success of the UK Independence Party, a Labour parliamentary candidate has said. Brendan Chilton, the Labour candidate for Ashford in Kent made the comment at a meeting of activists.
At the last election in 2010 Labour secured just four Parliamentary seats in the south east and a further four in the south west, just a mere fraction of the 191 seats they hold across England alone. The party also holds a number of council seats across the regions, but Chilton expressed concern that Labour may not be able to hold onto even that slim representation.
Over the last few years UKIP, keen to gain a national following, has specifically targeting Labour voters who have grown disillusioned with a Labour Party who no longer seems to speak their language. It’s a tactic which has seen some success: in October 2014 the party narrowly missed out on taking the Haywood and Middleton constituency from Labour, who held onto the seat by just 617 votes. It increased its share of the vote in that poll by more than 36 percent.
“[Labour representatives] do really have … a real risk from UKIP,” Chilton said. “Our own constituency is one of them. Canterbury is one, many seats in Kent, where I do think the risk is an existential one, they might not exist after May if UKIP move at the pace they are.”
Chilton, who is also the campaign director for Labour for a Referendum made his remarks to an audience at a Labour local government conference, a recording of which has been obtained by the Guardian.
Speaking alongside him was former cabinet minister John Denham, who is leading the party’s southern taskforce. He admitted that the party needed to start listening to the concerns of ordinary people more. “We preach so much and we listen so little that we’ll never get anywhere unless we turn those two things round,” he said.
Denham added that the party used to be supported by people who were not ideologically socialist, but who saw the party as a champion of a way of life that revolved around employment in manufacturing, which was linked to support for trade unions, their social life and sport.
“And our problem is they look at too much of the Labour party and they’re not from the way of life, don’t understand it, apparently have a different background and we have to rebuild those connections. And you can only rebuild the connections by listening, not by talking,” he said.
Also present was Ruth Smeeth, the parliamentary candidate for Stoke on Trent. She told the audience that the party had at times been “extraordinarily bad at talking to people who will come out and vote to stop Ukip who we can mobilise as a movement to stop them.” She also conceded that “We have been very bad at talking to the electorate about the issues the electorate care about.”