Following the recent elections both locally in Norfolk and nationally at Westminster, many of us will have been enjoying the demise of the entity we all know as ‘UKIP’ – the United Kingdom Independence Party. With many realising that their main objective of leaving the European Union has been all but completed, the electorate have decisively rejected their flimsy, populist, far right manifesto and consigned the party to the history books.
It’s hard to believe that they were ever a considerable electoral force, this year picking up just under 2% of the vote, losing all of their incumbent 145 local councillors and their only seat in parliament less than twelve months after their referendum victory. UKIP campaigners were keen to talk about voters returning to them, but this clearly didn’t materialise.
In my view, UKIP voters (European issue aside) didn’t always align with the right-wing values of the party, and many viewed them simply as a party who were willing to be radical and stand up to the establishment. An establishment who they saw as being responsible for the problems this country is facing, something which progressives need to realise is an attractive idea for voters.
UKIP voters were not going to the Tories, and these were not traditional right wing supporters
Without a doubt, a sizeable amount of UKIP voters first appeared at the 2010 General Election and dramatically increased in 2015, when it became clear to many people that progressive parties were not speaking about the issues that mattered in their lives. North Norfolk and Norwich South are the two Norfolk seats with progressive representation in the form of Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb and Labour’s Clive Lewis, which both saw a significant UKIP vote in 2015. As UKIP stood down in both these areas in 2017, they became reasonable targets for the Tories by claiming UKIP support for their own as a fellow right wing party.
What became clear over the course of the campaign however, was that UKIP voters were not going to the Tories, and these were not traditional right wing supporters. I spent a lot of time knocking on doors in both constituencies, and former UKIP voters were flooding towards the Liberal Democrats and Labour. Both Norman Lamb and Clive Lewis were offering an incredibly powerful, radical, popular anti-establishment narrative that even well respected UEA political expert Dr Chris Hanretty failed to pick up on, predicting a wipeout for progressive parties in Norfolk.
This feeling on the doorstep was all about a radical anti-establishment position, a feeling that was not based on a traditional political spectrum. Both Norman and Clive comfortably held their seats, by offering something different, unsurprisingly to those of us who had taken time to talk to voters and measure the anger felt by people towards a Tory government that had taken them for granted.
progressive parties are finally offering that radical choice to voters
I am increasingly glad to say that progressive parties are finally offering that radical choice to voters. I once told a journalist at a Jeremy Corbyn rally I sneaked into back in 2015, that I believed “Jeremy could become the ‘Nigel Farage’ of the left”. Aside from my more recent, catastrophically incorrect predictions about the state of the Labour Party, I am glad to say that my first one has come true. When one anti-establishment party in the form of UKIP collapses, voters look to effective candidates who represent an opposition to obstacles in their life. This was done effectively by progressive parties across the board at the recent General Election.
I think the main message we need to take from this is that, we cannot dismiss former UKIP voters as racist or old fashioned or as the ‘wrong’ type of voter to attract. These are people with genuine political concerns who turned to UKIP as a party they saw as being able to stand up for them and offering change – something which Labour, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats have started to do more and more.
The 2017 General Election is a step in the right direction for the progressive parties in capturing an anti-establishment group of voters – but we cannot afford to lose them. It is far too easy to stop being radical, to stop pushing for change, but it has to be remembered that this is what attracted these people to right wing parties in the first place. For all their faults, UKIP dared to be radical when progressive parties did not, they dared to have tough conversations, and dared to talk to voters other parties ignored. It was an impressive feat by UKIP, but one that has been stopped and one we must not allow to happen again – let’s make sure radical politics is never left to a right wing party again.
Extra info: General Election seat by seat results.
Featured image credit: Threrill / Flickr (CC)
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