The UKIP Nightmare: as bad as it seems?

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In horror films I usually find that it all gets a little better once I have seen the monster’s face. Now that those of us on the Europhilic side have caught our first substantial glimpse of the sceptic far-right, we can ask if the monster is as bad as its shadow.

On first inspection it looks bleak; the simple fact that UKIP won the election is cause for concern. The fact that Labour are the first opposition party to not win the European election in 30 years will hardly reassure Miliband, now facing a “nightmare” according to his own party.

But politics is nothing if not context, and it would be unfair to compare Labour’s current performance to that of previous Labour parties who campaigned in a two-party system with only the Tories to worry about. Since 2010 we have seen a UK coalition government, the significant rise of a far-right party, the crippling capitulation of the Liberal Democrats, the SNP’s triumph in the Scottish Parliament and the first Green in the House of Commons. British politics has diversified; scribbled Xs on a voting slip are no longer predictable.

Mainstream parties must change their strategies to survive. The Labour party can no longer assume it is the default alternative to the coalition and the Conservatives can no longer assume that pulling to the centre on social liberty will appease swing voters. The Liberal Democrats must do all they can to entice their core voters back and hope for the best. UKIP, by design or coincidence, do not need to do very much for electoral appeal.

There is one respect in which all parties are failing and that is participation; while there may be some truth to the claim that UKIP are energising the disillusioned, the fact is that turnout was only 0.2 per cent higher in 2014 than it was in 2009. UKIP voters were probably not previously disillusioned with politics, although they may have been disillusioned with the three major parties.

So what should Miliband do? He cannot engage the disillusioned, does not appeal to Euro-sceptics and will, sooner or later, have to admit that the economy is recovering. Well, he need not worry about the disillusioned – he cannot get them to the polling booth, but then again, neither can anyone else. As for Europe, he might as well say what everyone is thinking – that Labour would not hold a referendum on the EU. Chances are that Labour would never be a Eurosceptic’s first choice if they did offer a referendum, and keeping quiet about the whole situation is not helping his party in the polls, so he has nothing to lose by being honest about Labour’s position; plus it would make him look more like a decisive leader. As for the economy, he should stress that the cost of living is what matters and not merely economic growth. This would provide something tangible to the electorate, and to be fair to Labour, they have made the living wage one of their priorities.

There is one more way that Labour might be consoled – their increase in share of the vote in the 2014 election was only 1.32 per cent behind UKIP’s. If we are to believe the hype that UKIP are surging, then we must also believe that Labour are surging. If there is anything positive that Miliband can take from these results, it is that Labour have finally recovered from their low point in 2009.

But that won’t be enough for Ed to stave off nightmares; if Labour is serious about returning to government in 2015 they need to face the UKIP monster head on and not merely peek at it with scared eyes through parted fingers.

Written by Gregory Pichorowycz