Analysis of last week’s general election results has shown that in seat after seat the Labour Party lost to the Conservative Party by margins smaller than the vote share taken by UKIP in the same constituencies.
Senior Labour figures admit they underestimated the threat UKIP posed to their campaign, ignoring warnings that they, as well as the Conservatives, stood to suffer from UKIP’s popular appeal.
In an interview with the New Statesman Michael Dugher, Labour’s returning MP for Barnsley East and Vice Chair of the party under Ed Miliband, expressed frustration that his colleagues ignored his demands for a stronger response to UKIP dating back to 2013. Dugher told the magazine:
“Like other aspects of our election campaign, we were a bit behind the curve on UKIP. To be honest, the party only really got it after May last year. …There was a-naive assumption, back in 2013, that, because UKIP was bad for the Tories, therefore it must be good for us. Whereas, it was really bad for the Tories but quite bad for us.”
Dugher grew up in pit village only 10 miles away from the constituency he now represents and believes this experience gives him a real understanding of white working-class people which the Labour leadership lacked. Identifying campaign problems being a result of “too many pointy-heads and too few street fighters” he continued:
“We do dwell in London, the Labour Party. And London has cheek-by-jowl poverty …but the truth is, there is more to this country than that kind of metropolitan, multicultural, liberal left that is a big part of London.”
Analysis by The Independent shows that in 48 Conservative held seats, their majority over Labour was lower than the number of votes won by UKIP and in 9 seats lost to the Conservatives by Labour the UKIP vote was larger than the winning margin. Even though it is highly unlikely that all the UKIP votes would have otherwise gone to Labour, at least some of the defections will have cost them seats such as that previously held by Ed Balls. The former Shadow Chancellor lost to his Conservative opponent by just 442 votes, UKIP took 7,951. The effect was national, illustrated by widely-distributed Conservative gains in constituencies as far apart as Bolton West, Gower, Vale of Clwyd, Southampton Itchen and Plymouth Moor View.
Interviewed by Radio 5 Live Nigel Farage said: “I have been telling all the Westminster commentators for years that Ukip’s greatest potential was among the Labour vote.”
Farage’s ambition is now regarded seriously. Robert Ford, Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Manchester and co-author of Revolt on the Right calculated that in Labour seats where Ukip advanced strongly last Thursday the Labour vote fell by 4% but in Conservative seats the Conservtive fall was only 2%. Ford concludes:
“It is not just that UKIP can directly take Labour votes, but that it can fuse them with Conservative votes to generate a threat where it would not otherwise exist.”