Can UKIP replace Labour: some historical thoughts
Paul Nuttall the latest far right leader of UKIP has proclaimed that he plans to replace Labour as the party of the working class.
This seems as improbable as most UKIP pronouncements even if The Sun had not gathered from Professor Matthew Goodwin a rather impressionistic list of seats where UKIP might beat Labour. They might of course, as we know elections can produce interesting results. But given that the UKIP vote seems to be in decline currently, the party is in chaos and a considerable chunk of members have gone over or back to the Tories, there would need to be a question mark.
Further even if UKIP did succeed in winning a few Labour seats this doesn’t make them the party of the working class.
What it suggests is that it could be successful at gathering a section of working class voters who traditionally do not vote Labour. Allan and McKenzie’s 1968 book Angels in Marble studied the working class Conservative. While some may still be Tory, in recent years despite attempts to rebrand themselves as the ‘workers party’, that link seems to be in something of a decline.
It is difficult to see moreover how a party which has nothing positive to say about any workplace issue or indeed about defending the NHS would be likely to win support from the core Labour vote.
Moreover with just a few thousand members and even fewer activists how it would go about building longer term roots in working class communities and workplaces is also a question. Typically therefore one finds that where UKIP win a local election, often one suspects as a protest vote, they lose the seat next time.
These are issues about what kind of party Labour still is to some extent- particularly with its union links- and UKIP is not.
Mr Nuttall was apparently at some point a history lecturer and on Monday he claimed he wanted UKIP to be the party of the ‘patriotic’ working class. Patriotism can of course be understood in a number of ways. Keir Hardie no doubt felt he was being patriotic in opposing the slaughter of the First World War for example.
One wonders however what Mr Nuttall,should he be familiar with the text, makes of EP Thompson’s Freeborn Englishman. Thompson argued that such a person was against arbitrary power and for the rule of law, and wanted above all to be left alone by the State. In short he was someone who could, depending on context, appear on the right or the left of politics. I’m not sure Mr Nuttall has such nuance.