In their smugness at the Oldham by-election result, the Left are in danger of learning the wrong lessons from UKIP’s failure to gain traction
It goes without saying that the by-election result in Oldham is of great reassurance to Jeremy Corbyn and a bad, bad outcome for UKIP.
Much is already being written about how the result provides breathing space for Corbyn after a difficult week marked by the Syria vote. But one piece of commentary caught my attention, specifically this throwaway line at the bottom of the Guardian’s analysis:
Ukip can take no joy from failing to win in a racially charged area.
In this short, throwaway sentence lies all of the sneering anti-UKIP bigotry which has come to typify the new middle-class left-wing clerisy and their house journal, The Guardian.
Why would UKIP “take joy” from winning in a racially charged area? The Guardian clearly accepts this idea as gospel, but why would any decent human being be actively thrilled to profit from racial unrest and community tension?
That’s not to say that UKIP do not benefit from these conditions when they occur. But as newspapers like the Guardian usually love to point out, UKIP actually tend to do best in areas where there are fewest immigrants but where local deprivation is high. If anything, the ideal target constituency for UKIP is not somewhere awash with hardworking Polish immigrants, but a run-down, faded and economically dying coastal or northern town with few job prospects and even fewer immigrants.
No decent person would arrive in a constituency marred by racial tension, rub their hands in glee and look forward to collecting the electoral dividend. But this is precisely what the Guardian accuse UKIP of doing. Because they don’t believe it is possible to be decent and a Ukipper. First they continually equate UKIP’s opposition to unlimited EU immigration with racism, which it categorically is not, whatever the other rights and wrongs of their position. And then they write about UKIP taking joy from exploiting racial tension as though they were the BNP in tweed.
Last week while campaigning in Oldham, Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell stood in front of a crowd of supporters and called UKIP (and, by extension, the party’s supporters and sympathisers) “evil”. That was an incredibly insulting, ignorant and offensive thing to say, as well as being factually inaccurate. But at least we all know where John McDonnell stands and exactly what he thinks of people who believe in democracy, quiet patriotism and the nation state.
The Guardian would never be so gauche as to explicitly say that UKIP are evil. But they don’t need to. Their typical reader assumes it to be true, and so will nod along unthinkingly at a line about UKIP being supposedly disappointed not to have successfully exploited racial division.
Unfortunately, this is just further evidence of the Left assuming a very two-dimensional, cartoon caricature image of people who disagree with them. Conservatives can never disagree with socialism due to honest differences in outlook, they must be selfish Tory Scum. And Ukippers cannot have legitimate concerns over democracy and immigration, they must simply be racist.
We saw this same inability to empathise, to think from the perspective of the other person, when Channel 4 aired their ridiculous mockumentary “UKIP: The First 100 Days”, where Ukippers were portrayed by London-dwelling middle class film makers as two-dimensional, foul-mouthed, racist simpletons with working class accents.
There’s no doubt that the Oldham by-election was a very bad result for UKIP. Either UKIP have reached a natural ceiling in their support, their current electoral strategy is wildly misfiring, or the party’s reported financial troubles are so severe that they prevented the deployment of any serious ground game and voter mobilisation effort. The reality is likely to be some combination of all three.
But sneering that UKIP lost because they failed to exploit racial tensions – as though that goal is what motivates the party, and as though Nigel Farage were just another Nick Griffin – is wrong and ultimately counterproductive to the Left’s attempt to defeat the UKIP challenge.
Lasting victory can only ever come via a thorough understanding of one’s opponent. And the Guardian’s response to Labour’s by-election victory in Oldham proves that the Left are still a long, long way from understanding UKIP.
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UKIP are finished. The numbers they got last night are reflective of the BNP’s peak in the same constituency. That is what Farage’s anti-immigration strategy has achieved. They chose a path in the 2014 Euro elections and ran with it. Now they are reaping what they sow. They are spent and the party and their keyboard warriors are a liability for winning the referendum. The disdain that most people have for Ukip tells you all you need to know, they are considered beyond the pale, affiliation with them would raise eyebrows and lower opinions in the company of most people I know. An embarrassment. They will die a death, and ita Farages fault. What an opportunity they had and blew.
I agree with much of what you say, but the stubborn fact remains that UKIP delivered us the Brexit referendum. They did us a service in that, if nothing else, and though some Brexiteers may not like to admit it, we would not be having this referendum now without Farage (and any later could well be too late).
If UKIP flame out now, so be it – they are certainly no longer the small government / libertarian principled party that they once aspired to be, that much is certain. The focus on immigration is unseemly and the chasing after disaffected Labour voters has dragged the party to the left, where many of their original supporters cannot go. And from having attended their party conference, it was notable how few senior Ukippers had any kind of vision for what the party stood for post-referendum. Carswell has his own view, but it’s doubtful that the current party would follow him.