Chuka Umunna is right: UKIP voters can’t send emails

In other words, despite the headlines there really isn't a great deal to argue with Chuka Umunna about.

Except that’s not what he actually said.

“UKIP voters feel disconnected because they can’t send emails, Chuka Umunna says”.

That was the misleading headline in the Daily Telegraph yesterday following a suggestion by the shadow business secretary that voter disconnect from the mainstream might be fueling UKIP.

The Telegraph reported this as: “UKIP voters feel disconnected from mainstream politics because they don’t know how to send emails or browse the internet, Labour’s shadow business secretary has suggested.”

In reality, not only is this a misrepresentation of what Chuka Umunna said, but it derails an important discussion on UKIP’s recent popularity: the disenfranchisement of so called ‘left behind’ voters.

Here is what Chuka Umunna actually said during his interview on the Andrew Marr Show:

“But in addition to ensuring we empower our cities, we’ve got to empower our people, Andrew. The BBC has carried out some very interesting research on this. One in five people in our economy cannot do the four basics online of sending and receiving email, browsing the internet, filling in an online form. Now there’s been a lot of talk about communities who’ve been disconnected from our global economy and those of course were a lot of those who were voting for UKIP in the local and European elections. And of that mass of people who can’t do the things that all of us take for granted, a very large number of them are from those communities. So the next Labour government, we are going to be absolutely focused on connecting people into the global economy.”

So the nub of it is that one in five people have been left behind by the digital revolution and many of those people probably voted for UKIP in the recent European and local elections.

Hardly controversial. The problem with our clickbait/soundbite culture, however, is that this sort of thing doesn’t necessarily make a good headline – regardless of whether true or not. Far easier to run with a ‘Chuka implies UKIP voters are stupid’ headline.

And yet the wider point the shadow business secretary was trying to make is a valid one: many voters do feel left behind by globalisation and are trying to ‘stop the world and get off’. Digital skills (or a lack of) play an important part in this disconnect.

As the graph from the BBC survey cited by Chuka shows, almost one in five voters lacks basic online skills:

Basic skillsj

And predictably the problem is worse among older people:

UKIP graphj

And it’s more pronounced among those from blue collar backgrounds:

Class UKIPj

So to sum up, it’s working class over-65 who are most deficient in the digital skills increasingly required to get by in our increasingly digital economy.

And who are UKIP’s voters? Well as Matthew Goodwin, co-author of Revolt on the Right notes, UKIP are:

“white faces, blue collars and grey hair: angry, old, white working-class men who left school at the earliest opportunity and lack the qualifications to get ahead in 21st-century Britain.”

In other words, despite the headlines there really isn’t a great deal to argue with Chuka Umunna about on this point.

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