by Freddie Foot
A recent poll by Opinium has been touted as a depressing realpolitik electoral brick wall for the Labour Party. The poll on the surface shows a continued – and growing – commitment to centrist politics by the population, represented by liberal wings of the Tory Party and Neoliberal Labour, more than likely bolstered by general apathy.
The prominence of the centre is hardly surprising given that it covers a wide range of opinions and periodically incorporates, and equally periodically abandons, policy from both the left and right. This flies in the face of the idea that the centre of the past couple of decades – based broadly on a socially liberal but economically conservative agenda typified by New Labour and the Cameron years – is over.
The problems for Labour become apparent when you look further into the poll. For a start, for the total population, people who identify as right wing and centre-right outnumber those on the centre-left and left. When broken down into ‘tribes’ based on specific views, two groups (out of eight) make up 50% of the population.
These two groups are the ‘Common Sense’ group and the ‘Our Britain’ group. The Common Sense group consists of the electorate who support a reduction in immigration, compulsory work for benefit claimants and support for new grammar schools. The Our Britain group represent a more ethnic nationalist view with a broadly isolationist and anti-immigration stance.
These statistics show a clear dominance of traditional conservative views with a nationalist bent in the UK. The report does not show the areas in which they surveyed, but we can assume these two groups coincide with the provincial ‘left behind’ Leave voters based outside metropolitan cities.
This is UKIP ground. The mix of social conservative communitarianism and left-wing economics has repeatedly shown to draw people from both the Conservative and Labour camps to its ideals. As the poll shows, people who support reduction in immigration and compulsory work placements for benefit claimants, also support the banning of zero-hour contracts and nationalisation of the railways. With an increasingly metropolitan Labour membership and a hostile media, squaring this circle looks more and more unlikely by the day.
The loss of Nigel Farage, alongside Conservative pandering, will undoubtedly damage UKIP, but if Arron Banks can build a movement which captures the energy produced in the Leave campaign it could be very successful indeed in England. And of course, another possible route for the right is the capitalisation on growing English nationalism, which loudly reared its head in June’s EU referendum.
Hope lies in three factors. One; Leave.EU’s membership of close to 800,000 does not translate to support of a UKIP mkII considering the wide nature of the Brexit vote. Two; the older demographic makes Momentum’s tech-style organisation difficult and more unconnected. Three; with the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader the media and blairite wings of the labour party stop their assault and Labour can work on re-gaining credibility.
The ambition of Arron Banks et al to make UKIP the official opposition should not be taken lightly now in-fighting in the Labour party can (arguably) be put aside. Jeremy Corbyn is right to not budge on immigration, but he must offer something tangible to people that could be drawn to a social movement of the right.
Featured image © Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg