“A bunch of fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” said David Cameron in 2006, when asked his thoughts on the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).
Seven years later, David Cameron’s Conservative Party has suffered local election defeats, amid a surge for a party, which is, in essence anti-European and anti-immigration. UKIP has polled on average of 26 per cent where they stood candidates and they came second in the South Shields Parliamentary by-election; this will undoubtedly, be the biggest story of Thursday’s local elections.
We have seen just this week the extent to which the media have been pushing UKIP, with stories about candidates with anti-Semitic views, believing that homosexuality can be cured through exercise and images of members pictured doing Nazi salutes. These images speak volumes about the type of party UKIP are. With their anti-immigration, anti-European stance, it is fair to say that the people voting for them in places like Essex, Norfolk and Lincolnshire are choosing a clear set of policies on these issues. It would be right to say therefore, that UKIP are more than just a protest party and this is more than just an anti-political election.
The changes to the political landscape where by UKIP is able to pick up seats in key marginal constituencies shows that immigration is an issue on the doorstep. The concern then has to be that UKIP will be able to play a role in setting the political agenda on immigration thus allowing the Conservative Party’s scapegoating of immigrants from Easter Europe and other places to continue.
On Europe, UKIP voters clearly would like to see a new relationship with the European Union. This means that we need to have a proper and balanced conversation about this as we now build towards the European Elections of May 2014.
I have written before about how the spin and rhetoric around Labour’s policy ideas on immigration and the need not to pander to the right wing press. We should be making the positive case for immigration, telling the voting public about the benefits it brings, economically, social and culturally. It is imperative, that now more than ever before, as we see voters turning to UKIP that we develop a coherent set of policies which allow everyone to share in the benefits of immigration whilst making sure that we have a clear and concise message for the doorstep. One thing is for sure is that if the Labour Party continues its current messages around immigration we won’t win the argument on the doorstep.
Next Wednesday, Next Generation Labour will be holding a meeting at this crucial time to further discuss the Conservative scapegoating of immigrants with the backdrop of these local election results. Further information about the meeting can be found here.