The rise of UKIP marks a failure of the left

Voters suffering most severely from forms of economic oppression, and who share fundamental left-wing values, are not voting for Labour and are definitely not voting for one of the parties to the left of Labour.

Voters suffering most severely from forms of economic oppression, and who share fundamental left-wing values, are not voting for Labour and are definitely not voting for one of the parties to the left of Labour

I am going to indulge in a little navel-gazing to argue that we  – if anyone even wants to be part of the ‘we’ of the left anymore – need to take a break from blabbering at each other, and ask why our attempts to communicate are such a dismal failure.

The bedroom tax is bad. Raar! Angry! Me! Furious! Today’s left produces an endless stream of tweets, updates, comments and blogposts opining perspectives that, give or take the odd sub-clause, most of its audience already agrees with. Pat on the back! Yeah! It’s outrageous! Morons!

Meanwhile, many of the voters bearing the full weight of economic inequality blame Romanian immigrants and amble off to vote UKIP.

That this marks a catastrophic failure on the part of the left was demonstrated by research quoted in the Guardian a few months ago. It found that 71 per cent of UKIP voters agree with left-wing statements such as ‘the government should redistribute income’ and ‘ordinary people do not get their fair share of the national wealth’.

This was a significantly higher proportion than Conservative (43 per cent) or Lib Dem (65 per cent) voters, and not far behind Labour (81 per cent). Further research found that of the 10 most UKIP-friendly seats in the country, eight are Labour.

So what’s happened? Why are we finding it so hard to reach an audience beyond our own social and digital circles?

Could it be a consequence of what the film-maker Adam Curtis and novelist Michel Houllebecq identified about the movements of the sixties: that they were never really about social justice, they were about individual self-expression, and so not only did they feed quite naturally into the rise of marketing and Thatcherism, but they also created a culture whereby one’s politics are primarily an aspect of the identity you don each day and swish around on the stage of the world?

In a cultural context such as this, it is entirely logical that collective engagement should be relegated to second-place behind simply airing one’s views and splashing around in the warm pool of your own impassioned outrage.

Or, linked but a little different, is it that the left’s struggles have shifted from the grounds of class to focus on sexuality and gender – understandably tempting territory for the middle-class radical, allowing them to feel personally involved and oppressed and so to indulge their own narcissism?

These are of course vital struggles for many. But their inherent appeal has an unfortunate consequence. Those experiencing greater economic than gender-based oppression end up being left behind, forgotten about, and most of all alienated from a left of bloggers, artists, cartoonists and tattooists who spend half the time banging on about their own sex lives, shaving habits, and taste in arthouse cinema.

Or is the old left right after all, and it’s all the fault of New Labour?

To a large extent we’re still reliant on Labour to, bee-like, convey our arguments across the whole of the country. But Miliband’s party of career politicians has no convincing narrative to explain why people find themselves in dead-ends of economic deprivation, let alone any substantive policies that might get them moving again.

Whatever balance of these and other factors is the cause, it has happened, and we should acknowledge it. The left is losing the argument. Voters suffering most severely from forms of economic oppression, and who share fundamental left-wing values, are not voting for Labour and are definitely not voting for one of the parties to the left of Labour.

Most are not blaming flows of international capital for the housing crisis. They’re not blaming inadequate worker compensation for their long hours, poor quality of life and reliance on in-work benefits. They’re not blaming the slashing of subsidised legal aid for their precarious employment situation.

No, as UKIP’s continuing journey up the polls demonstrates, they’re blaming Romanian immigrants and benefit cheats. And the left is failing to counter these arguments.

Perhaps instead of churning out more contempt-laden copy on the latest UKIP blunder or eccentric policy proposal, we should turn our touchscreens to discussing how we can communicate more effectively with those suffering most acutely from the inequities of our economic system.

Toby Hill is a London-based journalist and writer

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176 Responses to “The rise of UKIP marks a failure of the left”

  1. Alexsandr

    its nothing to do with immigration. its population growth. In the late 19th century we were breeding -families with 9 kids.
    Now the cause of population growth is immigration. but its the size of the population thats the trouble, and the rate of change.

  2. Alexsandr

    caps lock stuck?

  3. Alexsandr

    collective bargaining. thats a good way to close businesses down or to export jobs abroad.

  4. Alexsandr

    not if they bleed voters to UKIP in scotland. Labour uncut has a good analysis of that.

  5. Leon Wolfeson

    “but were the tradiotinal labour vote really lefties,”

    Yes. Read up on the history of Labour in this country.

  6. Guest

    Keep calling for the lynch mobs and death squads, rather than admit the problem in IT is, er, outsourcing.

  7. Leon Wolfeson

    Yea, of course you need to have a go at me for daring to point out a truth.

  8. Leon Wolfeson

    Workers being allowed to talk is evil and shouldn’t be allowed in your world, News at 10.

    No, you want to do it anyway – for higher profits. Your excuses are excuses, stop depending on the state to fund your workers for you.

  9. Leon Wolfeson

    So you blame the other and try and get faces smashed, ignoring the fact it’s your right’s economics and 34 years of insufficient house building.

    No, blaming the Other and going on a Jihad for victims is easier.

    (No surprise GDP is holding up far too well for you either)

  10. Guest

    You’re demanding other people behave like you and be PC bigots. Ah, irony.

  11. Guest

    Your company should be shut down.

  12. Guest

    Where did they say they supported you? As you use one council election to demand Labour move still further right, away from the left and millions of voters without a party.

    “You”. Really? Nope, no left wingers lost their seats, they were Labourites. Moreover, you didn’t have significant crossover in voting, you just got the far right out in force.

    And you do indeed talk as if they’re clones, but fail to notice your party is the same on so many issues. Neoliberals together, sitting in a tree!

  13. Guest

    And you use a single council election, where the success was getting the right out to vote…

  14. Guest

    No, it does not. It does not support your contention at all. You are a “crew”, working for your masters, for pay.

    And of course the HoL report ignored the trade benefits of being in the EU.

  15. Guest

    “Buy my book”

  16. Guest

    No, I was quite correct.

    You mistake democracy and mobocracy, of course, as you blindly trust the state to kill. never mind the evidence it will kill innocents.
    And I’m sure Dr. Assad welcomed your volunteering., as you make fun of the British poor’s rapidly increasing inability to have food and shelter.

    YOU despise the white working class, you are a right winger who is voting against their interests, as you say that others must share your views, and lash out in PC bigotry, as you try and whitewash bigotry against women, LGBT, etc.

    Of course you see any other view from your as genuinely wicked, as you promote the idiotic lie that Miliband is leftist, showing your anti-democratic agenda again.

    Your wishes probably come with chlorine. I’ll keep my distance.

  17. Guest

    You are trying to divide the indivisible, to push right wing capitalist loot and pillagenomics.

    Not allowing free movement means the same system of visa’s as today, but you are at the same time demanding today’s tarrifs do not apply to goods.

    The effect would be harshly negative on wages, of course, ensuring an underclass of countries who would never get into the “club” of “real” EU members.

    It’s all about that, in the end, you say that suppressing wages isn’t bad for the least well off, and I do.

    And no, I will take a stance against yours and argue it politically, since I am a left winger.

  18. Guest

    Keep demanding titles suit your bigotry and that you should control the media. Then you lash out at democracy, and ignore the fact that the rise of the UKIP is to do with the right, not the left.

    No surprise you don’t believe countries like the Nordics or Germany exist, though.

  19. Alexsandr

    What company? I am a freelance consultant. And I work through a managed service company. Good unfounded assumptions here.

  20. Alexsandr

    supported ME? I am not a member of any party.
    And I dont care what Labour do on policy. I just point out inconistencies ih their approach. Same as I do with other parties. I think the tories have not done well in government since 2010 and if you look around you would see that I have said that.
    Why do you make these assumptions about me?

  21. blarg1987

    Ok, I am confused, reduction of tariffs mean, east European countries can sell their products and services more easily allowing them to create more money and pay their people more, rather then we increase tariffs to make it more difficult (trade tariffs work both ways).

    To say they would never get into the club is laughable as to have that rule will mean east European governments will be encouraged to increase living standards and wages or get kicked out of office by their own people.

  22. The_Average_Joe_UK

    You are not worth the oxygen.

  23. Guest

    So you were lying about the abuse. Or are simply poor at company law.

  24. Guest

    And there you go again, advocating death for anyone with different views, just like your ideological forebears, as you are unable to sustain any valid arguments for your ideology.

  25. Guest

    Their goods? They’d be exploited for low-wage labour for some goods, sure. But the profits would go to big companies.

    And no, it’s factual – we’ve seen that low wages mean we don’t get wage growth, and it would be imposed on them by your second-tier EU status rather than anything any domestic government could change.

    You’ve not learned the lessons of the right’s economic failures.

  26. Guest

    They’re ALL to far left for you, my bad!.

    And you obviously do care (deeply), as you invent things about them. I am reading your posts, and being too kind again, it seems.

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