Heywood and Middletown: UKIP’s Drake-like foray into the once inhospitable north of England

Okay, so what to say about UKIP’s performance last night. Let me gloss over the Clacton byelection where since, despite Douglas Carswell’s claim for it to be him ‘recalling himself’ it was in fact was a UKIP hold rather than a gain from the Tories.

The Heywood fight was much more interesting politically.

First, the issue for Labour was more to do with the turnout rather than the fact they nearly lost. Spelling that out: 35% means that 65% of your electorate could not be bothered to save you from the clutches of a rightist insurgent political challenge from the warm beer drinking south.

As if to demonstrate the party’s shortsightedness on the matter, the winning candidate (who nearly lost) demonstrated the foibles of the apparatchik by angrily claiming her near loss as a glowing endorsement of Ed Miliband’s leadership.

Sure, the Tories got squeezed. Lib Dems only just picked up their deposit. And indeed on a falling turnout Labour picked up a 1%. And they needed every one of those defections (from Lib Dems and wet Tories) to edge ahead of her UKIP rival.

The worrying thing from a Labour pov is that their new MP seemed completely oblivious to the inherent danger of the situation. Her blushes saved only by the similar (if more graceful) difficulty experience of the Essex Tory MP Pirti Patel to explain away the warm beer drinking UKIP threat further south.

A win is a win after all. As my old dad used to say, people quickly forget second placers.

So what do we draw from this? Two things. First this from Lord Michael Ashcroft on Twitter yesterday:

Second, there is this very telling take from Mickey Kaus with an intelligent US perspective:

…maybe UKIP has backed into an intriguing model for a 21st century First World party, namely fighting against all the modern forces pulling the economy and the culture apart.  The forces: Technology and trade increase income inequality (UKIP’s Nigel Farage: “The country’s got a big, big problem and in the course of the last decade the ‘rich’ have got remarkably richer.”) Uncontrolled immigration brings discordant cultures and lower wages, making it harder for unskilled workers to live traditional, ordinary middle class lives. Even if wages weren’t going down, it would be harder to have social equality when incomes depend increasingly on smarts, skills and knowledge. Income differences take on a nasty new edge. Endless, inconclusive wars — disorienting in themselves — increase the gap between military and civilian culture, between those who serve and those who don’t.

UKIP may recognize that in a society being fractured and degraded (for the majority) even very imperfect but functioning traditional statist programs like the NHS can provide a necessary structure. The obvious parallel is with the U.S. Tea Party’s often-mocked “Keep Your Government Hands Off Hands Off My Medicare” motif. That may not be ideologically coherent in traditional government vs. individual terms–or “Back to the Constitution” terms —but it is perfectly coherent in “stop all this unpleasant change” terms. Like the U.K., America has been deconstructing, and it sometimes seems as if the New Dealish/Great Society programs Medicare and Social Security are the only familiar structures of support anyone can rely on.

Humour and rationale only take you so far when dealing with the new, insurgent populists. The fact that they lack technocratic know how may only be a problem of time and current under capacity rather than a matter of unalloyed mendacity. The pitch they make scans well to a lot of people who are simply fed up with the centre, be it London or Dublin or Brussels continuing on with business as usual.

Some Labour MPs do get it. But the union’s foisting of the technocratic Miliband on the party will have costs once voters get over their aversion to voting away from home. Miliband’s inability to rouse them sufficiently to get to the polls ought to concern them rather more than it apparently does.

Like Drake’s raid on Cadiz, it may be recorded as little more than the singeing of the King of Labour’s beard. But hey, everyone in Dublin (and I confess much closer to home here on Slugger) thought Sinn Fein was finished in the south after 2007.

In tough times, the voters are looking for tough gestures more than bland assurances on gas prices. That kind of bland featureless populism can make you deeply unpopular over time.

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  • Michael Henry

    One by- election win does not make UKIP a successful Westminster party yet-

    But more Tory MPs maybe Labour MPs or Lib Dem MPs defections to UKIP before the next Westminster elections could make for a very interesting election next year-

  • Lyndon T Palmer

    Unfortunately lovely Laura Sandys MP decided not to stand again, to face Farage, in Thanet South. Her father Duncan was President of the postwar European Movement. If we are to put the constitution at the centre of political debate then a Sandys v Farage debate would have been lively.

    If it was up to me I would set the starting point for debate, about undesirable immigration into UK, at the Galician SS Divn postwar. The point it seems when European integration was trialled by the creation of a pan European Secret Army. The UK was unhealthily happy with this situation. A rich man’s FRU across Europe.

    But it was EU who in 1990 announced that they wanted the secret army dismantled.

    So UK ignored them. When we go independent of Europe who will we pass the secret army command structure to ? More work for the International Arms Decommissioners ?

  • UKIP aren’t populist, UKIP instead shows that democracy is responsive and able to react and adjust itself to the concerns of the people, that’s democracy – not ‘populism’, nor is it right wing: it is people-centric. Ordinary people.

    These voters are sending out a signal, a signal that corrective action needs to be taken to fix the faults with neoliberalism, yes there is no problem with qualified migrants seeking work in Britain, but for unskilled and unqualifed migrants that don’t speak English, well, these types struggle to integrate into working class communities and should not be here, they should be debarred, restricted from coming into Britain.

    Why is immigration an issue for working class communities? Well, working class communities have a bigger stake in the community around them as they seek enjoyment from the social life that community brings, whereas mainstream so-called progressive types, neoliberal types, derive enjoyment from employment arrangements ‘getting on in life’ which involves brown nosing senior employees at the weekend at workplace organised events, or out at workplace drinks parties and so on, acting all snobby and careerist in order to get ahead in their jobs, this is what shallow ‘getting on in life’ is all about i.e. befriending cnuts you wouldn’t even bother to say “hi” to at home, but have to act like they are your friends at work so as to get head in your job and make more money in employment.

    Whereas, in total contrast, the working class communities believe their enjoyment lies in community life, regardless of employment status, community life which is ruined by having foreign people turning up out of nowhere, turning up as a result of something they never voted in favour of, and ultimately taking up public housing over their local ones. You see, that’s a problem because these new occupants regrettably don’t speak any English and therefore are unable to participate in meaningful community life and regrettably cannot take part in communal activities that the native community hosts.

  • NMS

    An excellent piece in the Guardian from John Harris, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/oct/10/this-way-to-brexit-what-would-happen-if-britain-left-eu . I personally look forward to the return of Border posts and the proper security, the need for UKs to have residence & work permits to live and work in the European Union. etc.

    Ireland can finally join Schengen and be proper members of the EU rather than worry about Britain or UKNI.

  • mickfealty

    “the messy and uncertain future of British politics.”

    Politics should embrace the messy and the uncertain. It’s been too certain and uncluttered for too long.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Europe as a federal entity patently doesn’t work. There are far too many country specific differences. For example, have we seen an EU army enter the fray against ISIS? No, we have seen the British and French in support of the U.S. and the Germans hiding, yet again, under the bed covers. The general theme to Harris’ piece, or what I take from it, is that Europe is broke, literally and figuratively. There are lots of “reasons” to keep limping on – costs for new passports, border controls etc etc, but they are mere details. If Europe will not reform, and I don’t believe it wants to (too much graft and bribery), and move itself back to its roots as a free trade zone, then the UK should exit. I blame Blair (there’s a oft heard refrain) and his federal tendencies multiplied to his political correctness that stopped the country being able to question immigration for fear of being branded racist. These were the precursors to UKIP and the general disconnect that the populace have with today’s politics. It’s not so much that politics is removed from the general public, it’s more that they are incapable of even debating key issues such as immigration, the required change within the NHS etc. God help us if we get a Labour government next time around…they won’t touch the big questions with a 10 foot barge pole (again a hangover from Blair). Take a look across the channel if you want to see what socialism does to a country in a “hard market”.

  • barnshee

    “Ireland can finally join Schengen and be proper members of the EU rather than worry about Britain or UKNI.”

    Hardly –it would require a “hard” Border with NI -manned crossing points, passports brandished solid barriers etc etc

    Au Contraire if UK left –ROI would be pressurised to do the same

  • Michael Henry

    Seen this on twitter Lol-

    In a radio interview today a Voter told the station that he Voted UKIP in this election because the Former MP in Clacton had not been seen since the last election- ( you could not make it up )-

  • Michael Henry

    Britain would need to remove its armed forces immigrants from other peoples country’s before they look at their own doorstep- they have some brass neck on them-