Progress editorial | First published on Progressonline
The political establishment is running scared. The United Kingdom Independence party is a phenomenon that it barely understands and cannot quite work out how to outmanoeuvre, let alone outsmart.
While Ukip has given those who do not vote, or reluctantly vote for a mainstream party, somewhere to go, the party has real and present limits to its support base. It might not have reached it yet, but it sits around the 20 per cent mark.
Herein lies the opportunity to win a majority at the next election. Twenty per cent of the electorate may be leaning Ukip, but the rest are not, and there is no party that provokes greater antipathy than Nigel Farage’s. The leader best able to represent and lead the ‘anyone-but-Ukip’ vote has a prize waiting at the end.
Each coalition party leader was stymied by decisions taken, or not taken, on issues like tuition fees and Europe, while still in opposition. In contrast, Ed Miliband became leader of the opposition with the clear aim of unifying the progressive vote in the country. What better opponent than Farage against which to unite the country behind a vision of better tomorrows, not better yesterdays?
For Miliband the path is more certain and has already been trodden in the 2005 election. The Tories kicked off their election campaign with immigration. Are you remembering what we remember? Posters designed by Lynton Crosby put the prejudice of the immigration debate in full view of the public. The then leader of the Labour party and country went to the white cliffs of Dover, and the rest, as they say, is history. And that is where it should stay other than to offer Miliband a reminder, and the reassurance, that the public respect honesty, seek leadership and want a clear plan of action. It is possible to make the positive case for immigration, show people you want fair rules without prejudice, and win majority of 67.
In what has been a difficult period for the leader, many have questioned why he has not made a speech on crime, primary or secondary education, or even international development. But the missing show in Miliband’s speaking tour is this: globalisation. Labour has to have an account of what is happening to power, wealth and opportunity not just at home but abroad. This needs to tell a story about Britain’s place in a world in which power is moving east, explain what the role of China and India is and outline a response to Russia. It must recognise that Europe has moved from a union for peace and prosperity to a network for prosperity, productivity and power. European politics is now as much domestic as foreign, if not more so, and vice versa, whether it is the European arrest warrant impacting on our security or joint action on reforming the banks. Domestic policy that is itself brilliant and galvanising is, these days, ultimately insufficient if it does not sit alongside a bigger worldview.
Those switching from Labour to Ukip know this. Politics is offering small solutions to what are huge problems. Voters are angry, and many with good reason. Some have literally been abandoned by the safe-seat mentality of some members of parliament, and therefore by politics itself; others because they have been the losers of globalisation. Pat McFadden hits the nail on the head in his interview with Progress on page 18, when he says, ‘You can point to the disruption that this change causes, and it does; sometimes that can cause unease, sometimes people say is this too much too quickly.’
However, even when voters give voice to this on the doorstep they also know that Ukip represents their anger yet provides no answers. If they want increased manufacturing, job security, international opportunity for their children and grandchildren and good pay, these things come from trade, better skills and increased social mobility, not a heavy night in the Red Lion with Farage.
These changes are big, scary and uncertain so the country looks to political leaders to hold their hand through rapid change. This was provided by the government Miliband was a member of until ‘British jobs for British workers’ became the new prime minister’s mantra; at this point Labour shut out reality, turned away from the solutions and lost credibility with the public. Miliband, Ed Balls and Chuka Umunna need to take the country by the hand once more and look towards the future. Many of the policies to accompany this lie in Andrew Adonis’ review of the economy carried out as part of Labour’s manifesto process. With an offer of real-life stories, genuine opportunities and exciting possibilities Labour can bring people back from the brink.
The ‘SNP- and Ukip-ification’ of British politics propagates, as McFadden suggests, the idea ‘that divorcing from your neighbours is the answer to your problems’. Ukip and the Scottish National party have much in common. ‘They believe’, he goes on, ‘that pulling away from connections is the future rather than making those connections work better’, as if you can shut off the world because our problems are getting smaller and more technocratic. In fact, they are getting bigger and more complex; critically, the voters know this to be true.
Waking up to this fight and unifying the country against this narrow-mindedness is not just about seeking permission to govern, without the Liberal Democrats and on a mandate of Labour’s own making, but about bringing back former Labour voters who have left the party for Ukip. With answers that meet the scale of the challenge and are consistent with a global view of the world’s problems, Labour can show the country that it is leading the way. Miliband’s recent strong stance on the European Union happens to be both right and evocative of all the qualities of leadership the public look for in a would-be prime minister. The same would be true in the wake of a broader account of globalisation and Britain’s place in the world. The 80 per cent are waiting.