Media mud over UKIP

I don’t usually comment on political events as this blog is for economics.  But I just could not stop myself responding the British media’s distorted account of the recent by-elections (i.e. elections between the general election) for two MPs.

The British media is engaged in talking up a petty-bourgeois right-wing Eurosceptic party, UKIP, at every opportunity. UKIP has just got its first MP in a by-election in Clacton. But not really. The UKIP candidate was the sitting Conservative MP who defected to UKIP, so he was ahead from the beginning.

There was another by-election at the same time in central Manchester because the sitting Labour MP had died. This was a relatively safe Labour seat and in the by-election Labour held the seat narrowly by just over 600 votes from the UKIP candidate, from a 6000 majority in the general election in 2010. Apparently there was swing from Labour to UKIP of 17.5%.

The media reported that this showed Labour too was in trouble from surging UKIP support, just as much as the incumbent Conservative party was. But if we analyse the result properly, this is nonsense.

First, the turnout for the Manchester by-election was hugely down. It was only 57.5% in May 2010. Now it was just 40%. But this is the rub. Labour’s share of the vote actually ROSE from 40.1% of the turnout in May 2010 to 40.9% in the by-election. The Labour vote was not affected by UKIP.

What happened was that the non-Labour vote all went to the UKIP (apart from a small vote for the ecological Green party). The Conservative vote collapsed from 27.2% share to 12.3% and the junior partner in the current government, the Liberal Democrats, saw their vote disappear from 22.7% in May 2010 to just 5.1%. Actually, if you add up the combined voting share for the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and UKIP, it was 52.5% in May 2010 and in the by-election it was 56%. That’s hardly a surge. Indeed, if you include the vote for the fascist BNP in May 2010, the share going to the anti-Labour vote FELL from 59.5% to 56%.

The media does not want to report the facts because it is determined to weaken the popularity of the Labour party and ensure its defeat next May. It may succeed, given the craven and pathetic leadership of the Labour elite. The Labour party has failed to galvanise the British people’s undoubted disgust and disappointment with the policies of the Conservative-Liberal government. So any electoral opposition has gone to a Eurosceptic, anti-immigration party, as it has in many European countries and did in the recent Euro elections.

So Labour has not ‘lost’ any share of its vote to UKIP. For this reason, the chairman of Conservative party is right. A vote for UKIP increases the chances that the Conservatives will lose seats to Labour in the general election, given the British ‘first-past-the-post’ system. That is why I expect the UKIP ‘surge’ to melt away next May.

9 thoughts on “Media mud over UKIP

  1. I am actually of the opinion that parties like UKIP, are absolutely good news for us. People like Farage and LePen having more influence will only accelerate the demise of the European Union. And I can’t think of a more reactionary institution on the face of the earth than the European Union. As for the center left parties of Europe, then I cannot imagine anything more degenerate and impotent in regards to progressive politics.

    1. But leftists like us think that we should not look at reactionaries like Farage or Le Pen for help to destroy something like the European Union, no matter how this organism may disappoint us.

  2. I’d like to reply to this, especially as I disagree very strongly with your last two sentences. UKIP *is* a danger and is extremely important that people on the left are not complacent about it.

    You wrote: “A vote for UKIP increases the chances that the Conservatives will lose seats to Labour in the general election, given the British ‘first-past-the-post’ system. That is why I expect the UKIP ‘surge’ to melt away next May.”

    1) First a very important political point that the numbers don’t capture. UKIP is a far right racist populist party. It puts anti-immigrant rhetoric at the centre of its campaigning and is creating an increasingly racist atmosphere. This is made worse by the reaction of the mainstream parties, including Labour to its shame, to UKIP gains – rather than counter the immigrant-bashing, they make concessions to it, helping to legitimise racism, bigotry and division. UKIP’s rise is making Britain a more racist place. This is very bad news and should not be welcomed by anyone on the left. The rise across Europe of populist racist parties, and fascists like the FN in France, is a grave danger.

    2) The “swing” of 17.5% (I have seen various figures quoted fwiw) does NOT mean that 17.5% of vote share has moved from Labour to UKIP. Swing is a mathematical construct that is sometimes useful in looking at elections, though I think not really in the case of Heywood because of the complex changes in the configuration of the vote.

    There will be ecomoists reading this whose maths will be enormously better than mine, so rather than explaining the maths very badly, I would suggest anyone interested look up Butler Swing and Steed Swing as applied to UK first past the post elections if you want to get into the technicalities.

    3) UKIP is well able to take a share of the vote from Labour – it has been doing so for some time, although the bulk of its vote still comes from former Tory voters. In Clacton Labour lost more than half of its share of the vote to UKIP. The racist party will be looking to do this in some Labour constituencies where it will hope to take votes off all three main parties to win or come a good second.

    4) In Heywood it is true that the Labour vote held up *in percentage terms*, and that UKIP’s vote came from a collapse in the Tory vote, the suicide of the Lib Dems and from former BNP voters. But this does not tell the whole story. Heywood has gone from being a safe Labour seat to a very tight marginal that UKIP will hope to win in May – they came within 617 votes of winning it on Thursday.

    A vote for UKIP in Heywood did not benefit Labour – it very nearly cost them the seat.

    When turnout goes down to 36% this is not an abstract condition that arrives from the sky, it is because real voters stay at home. In this instance, Labour failed to mobilise around 7000 voters who had supported it in 2010. Its austerity-lite politics are not attractive enough to get these tradiotional Labour voters to the polls, never mind to pull disaffected Tories and Lib Dems (something that usually you might expect after five years of Tory-Lib Dem government).

    There is no guarantee at all that if the turnout goes up in Heywood in May, these will be voters flooding back to Labour – there is also a possiblity that they will decide to turn up to vote because they think they could signal their anger by putting UKIP (in reality a horribly anti-working class party) into Westminster.

    It is very bad news that voters in Heywood have gone from the Tories and Lib Dems, not towards the left after years of austerity, but to the racist right.

    5) Heywood shows how UKIP, even where it is not taking votes directly from Labour, can galvanise and mobilise a rightwing opposition to Labour in order to beat it (or come very close). In some other areas, bitterness at the Labour party along with the Tories and Lib Dems means UKIP is likely to cut directly into the Labour vote. The win in Clacton (albeit where the winner was the incumbent) the narrow margin in Heywood and a scary byelection in Rochester to come are all giving UKIP momentum.

    The idea that it is safe for Labour to stand back because UKIP will merely split the Tory vote is quite wrong.

    On this basis in May, UKIP could take a clutch of seats – six? twelve? the prospects are arlarming. This will be put a far right racist party in parliament – a breakthrough for the racist right, a terrible event for the antiracist left.

    You will find this argument in a bit more detail with discussion of where UKIP is finding its vote, and how it is building in formerly staunch Labour voting working class towns like Doncaster, here >

    There are more numbers and stuff in this piece too.

    1. Tash

      Some good points here. But
      1) I don’t think Britain is more racist than it was before UKIP’s rise. UKIP’s rise is the result of a reaction by some Brits to the slump, the loss of jobs and incomes which they think might be due to immigrants. But most Brits don’t think that – even now UKIP is not getting more than 20% in polls. As you say, Labour is not fighting this argument but just agreeing with it.
      2) agreed – the swing figure is not useful here
      3) I predict that UKIP will manage a good second at best in safe Labour seats next May
      4) yes voters stayed at home and the winning party was the NO VOTE party. But I predict that Labour will hold Heywood in May with a bigger majority than in the by-election. 5) Of course, Labour must not ‘stand back’, but not just because of UKIP but because it ought to be presenting class (socialist) policies in opposition to the Tories and it is not doing so. Maybe the UKIP will take six to 12 seats, although I doubt it. But I reckon none will be from existing safe Labour seats. According to the piece you cite, the maximum share of Labour voters that might vote UKIP is 15% compared to up to 45% of Tory voters. UKIP may have won seats on Doncaster council but Labour easily held the council, and this is where Labour have been even more of a disgrace than usual in the past few years. So here is another prediction: Doncaster will stay Labour next May.

      But thanks for your informative comments – I knew I should have stayed with economics!

    2. Heywood has gone from being a safe Labour seat to a very tight marginal that UKIP will hope to win in May… When turnout goes down to 36% this is not an abstract condition that arrives from the sky, it is because real voters stay at home.

      No, it’s not a marginal seat. It’s a by-election. There’s a ton on evidence to show that by-elections are totally different events to general elections. People are far more likely to protest vote in by-elections, because they know they’re not voting for the government. The history of by-elections is littered with minority parties winning an MP, and then losing it again at the very next general election.
      Furthermore, low turnout is normal in by-elections, there’s nothing odd about this election, turnout was down in the Clacton by-election as well, you’ll be hard pushed to find a by-election where turnout isn’t much lower than in general elections. And this tends to exaggerate the proportion of people that support protest parties like UKIP. Because people who support parties like UKIP are likely to be more motivated to vote in a by-election, than the average voter. UKIP won fewer votes in Heywood and Middleton than the Tories won in 2010, and the Tories only won 27% in that election. Come the next general election the turnout will increase a lot, but I very much doubt that UKIP’s total vote will go up proportionately, indeed I predict that many people who voted UKIP in this by-election will vote Conservative in the general election. A poll by Ashcroft indicates that some 50% of people who voted for UKIP in this year’s European elections aren’t committed to voting for UKIP in the general election next year.

  3. I agree with Michael that racism in Britain is the same as it ever was. If anything Britain is less racist today than it was 20 or 30 years ago but maybe more racist than it was 10 years ago.

    However, I think UKIP’s rise is something the left should take seriously, and it points to a crisis in politics. People are becoming tired of the same old same old. Also we are seeing the contradictions of a truly global capitalist epoch play out, and UKIP are a symptom of that.

    But we shouldn’t just look at this in a negative light, this should present new opportunities for the left, the weakening of the main political parties could create a genuine space for new ideas, an atmosphere akin to the English civil war.

    Lots to be positive about.

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