Everything was okay when it was just the Tories being wounded. But these irritants continue to sprout, eating into Labour’s core support in both local and European elections; picking up votes from protesters of the status-quo, when surely they should be the beneficiaries of any protest vote, being the party of opposition and all that.Taking a hard line or a harder line on immigration is seen as one response. Spouting platitudes about voters feeling angry at the political class, using the latest elections to send a message, is another response. Calling for the EU to reform and give us some powers back is yet another.
Politicians could spend every day until the general election fretting about Ukip (and they probably will), commissioning dozens of focus groups, whilst striving to find that elusive common touch that Nigel Farage seems blessed with.They should stop right now. Because it won’t make any difference.
Labour and the Conservatives can sound as tough and as concerned and as angry about immigration as the average Ukip councillor but it won’t work.They will never be able to find a line as hard on immigration as Ukip. Nor should they want to, although that won’t stop some from trying. Do they plan to match the demands of what half of all Ukip voters want: that immigrants and their children, including those who were born here, be encouraged to leave Britain?
The answer to Ukip continually fails to understand why people vote Ukip in the first place.
No need for any more polls, the groundwork’s already been done. Yes, Ukipppers loathe the EU, but it’s certainly not why they vote Ukip. Yes, they want the mother of all crackdowns on immigration. It’s the issue that gets them hot and bothered more than any other, but even this doesn’t explain why Ukippers feel the way they do.They are a section of the population bitter about modern Britain. They don’t much like how our (or ‘their’) country has turned out. They’re the kind of people you’d hear regularly talk about things ‘going to the dogs.’ They are nostalgic for a different decade. They feel uncomfortable about the Britain they live in. And it’s not just because of immigrants.
Still the best piece of research done on Ukip supporters and Ukip ‘considerers’ comes from Lord Ashcroft’s weighty poll of some 20,000 of the above.His summary tells you all anyone needs to know. Here are the key (and lengthy) passages that require most attention:
“The single biggest misconception about the UKIP phenomenon is that it is all about policies: that potential UKIP voters are dissatisfied with another party’s policy in a particular area (usually Europe or immigration), prefer UKIP’s policy instead, and would return to their original party if only its original policy changed.
“In fact, in the mix of things that attract voters to UKIP, policies are secondary. It is much more to do with outlook.
“Certainly, those who are attracted to UKIP are more preoccupied than most with immigration, and will occasionally complain about Britain’s contribution to the EU or the international aid budget. But these are often part of a greater dissatisfaction with the way they see things going in Britain: schools, they say, can’t hold nativity plays or harvest festivals any more; you can’t fly a flag of St George any more; you can’t call Christmas Christmas any more; you won’t be promoted in the police force unless you’re from a minority; you can’t wear an England shirt on the bus; you won’t get social housing unless you’re an immigrant; you can’t speak up about these things because you’ll be called a racist; you can’t even smack your children.
“All of these examples, real and imagined, were mentioned in focus groups by UKIP voters and considerers to make the point that the mainstream political parties are so in thrall to the prevailing culture of political correctness that they have ceased to represent the silent majority.
“UKIP, for those who are attracted to it, may be the party that wants to leave the EU or toughen immigration policy but its primary attraction is that it will “say things that need to be said but others are scared to say.” Analysis of our poll found the biggest predictor of whether a voter will consider UKIP is that they agree the party is “on the side of people like me.
“These voters think Britain is changing for the worse. They are pessimistic, even fearful, and they want someone and something to blame. They do not think mainstream politicians are willing or able to keep their promises or change things for the better. UKIP, with its single unifying theory of what is wrong and how to put it right, has obvious attractions for them.”Essentially, what you have are a list of grievances (if you can call them that) that are impossible to legislate on. Many of them are myths based on scare stories found in the right wing press. They sound like the kind of thing you’d overhear down your local boozer. Not a coincidence then Farage chooses the pub as his default HQ.
Most crucially, as Lord Ashcroft notes, it’s not policies that draw people to Ukip, but outlook. The party says things other wouldn’t dare. Or wouldn’t waste time saying.It has skilfully tapped into people’s most minor and trivial complaints and made them into something bigger than they really are. They specialise in the mundane because they don’t have a manifesto for government. And don’t pretend to have one. Their voters know they’re not voting for a future government but for a party which will let them vent their spleen. And then proclaim to understand where they’re coming from.
It’s no surprise where they draw the bulk of their support from. Never mind Mondeo Man or Worcester Woman. Meet Grumpy Old Man. Almost three-quarters of Ukip supporters are over the age of 70. Just 15% are under 40. Most are men. The Sun/Express/Mail are their newspapers of choice.Immigrants are their scapegoats, but if it wasn’t immigrants it’d be someone or something else.
Quite amusingly, over the weekend, The Times reported that Ukip voters were most reluctant to try foreign foods. A survey had also found them:
“Less likely to follow fashion, to list books as their interests or to be curious about other cultures.”When you read the findings from Lord Ashcroft’s poll, none of this should come as a surprise.
An academic study into Ukip found:
This “left behind” group could once rely on their numerical strength to ensure a voice in the two biggest parties, but the growth of the highly-educated middle class led both Labour and the Tories to “regard winning support from middle class swing voters as more important.”In other words, politicians aren’t really interested in people like them. Or to put it another way, the People’s Army aren’t really interested in people like us.
Life has moved on, society has diversified. For Ukip’s supporters it’s all happened far too quickly. They want to jump off the nearest exit and head back to a time they understood. For the rest of us, we’ve never known any different.
Politicians may claim they know why people vote Ukip, but if they’re being totally honest with themselves, they’d also acknowledge that most of their concerns are impossible to allay. How do you satisfy a group of people who reject much of modernity? The answer is you can’t.
This was first published by Speaker's Chair on Thursday 5th June 2014