Local Elections A Warning For Labour That The White Working Class Is 'Pissed Off' And Voting Ukip

Labour leader Ed Miliband is greeted by supporters and councillors at Redbridge Town Hall in Ilford, Essex, where Labour took control of Redbridge council during yesterday's local elections.
Labour leader Ed Miliband is greeted by supporters and councillors at Redbridge Town Hall in Ilford, Essex, where Labour took control of Redbridge council during yesterday's local elections.
Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Labour needs to understand that its traditional white working class base is "pissed off and angry" and that is why it is being tempted by Ukip, one MP has said.

Ed Miliband has insisted the party, which won the largest share of the national vote with 31% , ran a good campaign. But with Labour's lead over the Conservatives narrowing a post-mortem on the party's electoral strategy is already underway.

The wildcard in the local elections was how well Ukip would do, particularly against Labour councillors in the midlands and north of England. A senior Labour source suggested to The Huffington Post that the leadership was relaxed about Nigel Farage's surge in support as, if anything, it made it "increasingly harder for the Tories to win the general election". The source close to Miliband also said Labour was best positioned to win back votes from Ukip.

The comment is at odds with some in the party who want Labour to take a more aggressive approach towards Nigel Farage, or are more concerned about the impact Ukip will have locally.

Derby North MP Chris Williamson told The Huffington Post that while Labour had a good night, the party leadership needed to pay attention to the local election “warning signs” and that there was a feeling of “resentment” among the white working class that the party needed to address quickly.

“Overall I think it was decent night for us. We are on course for an overall majority. But we cant be complacent, we’ve got to sort this Ukip problem out, we have to sort out the white working class flank,” he said.

“In Derby, in the more diverse multicultural wards, we had an incredibly strong showing for Labour, we are virtually weighting the Labour vote. And if you go into the sort of left-wing, intelligentsia, Guardian reading communities -we lost those sort of votes to the Lib Dems following the Iraq War- this vote has come back to us in spades.

"But in predominately white working class communities we've seen some inroads into our support which has gone to Ukip."

Williamson's comments, unlike remarks made by other Labour backbenchers, were not framed as an attack on Miliband. However they do reveal concern among some MPs outside of London about the problem the party has connecting with its traditional white working class base ahead of the general election.

The MP, who was first elected in 2010, said Labour had “lessons to learn in those traditional white working class communities which are voting Ukip”.

“It's a new challenge for us in that sense. We are coming to grips with it, we have to come to grips with it very quickly. It's right we have tried to put forward a positive opposition and to try and recognise and understand that people are pissed off and angry.”

He said said he did not think that working class voters would support Ukip if they were better informed about some of the party's policies on the NHS and employment. “We need to do more probably to expose what Ukip represent," he said.

Williamson, the former leader of the Labour group on Derby City Council, said key to winning back votes in communities like his was getting across to young people that a Labour government would be able to offer good employment rather than "tinpot crap" jobs.

“I can't believe frankly that the working class votes Ukip has mopped up have understood the full implications of what the Ukip plan would be," he said. “One of things we need to do is make sure we are setting out a clear and distinctive offer, we have started to do that. The Labour party has got to stand for something and to be seen to stand for something.

“I don’t want to beat ourselves up. We have done well. But we definitely have a job to do in setting out agenda for those working class communities. Clearly Labour's offer is one that would be incredibly beneficial to those communities.”

Derby has also seen some local councillors defect to Ukip, including one who used to be a Labour Party member. But Williamson observed: "I suppose Oswald Mosley was Labour one at one point."

Other backbenchers were more critical. Labour backbencher John Mann told the BBC the leadership's electoral strategy had been "disastrous" and criticised Miliband for not reaching out to a wider spread of voters.

He told BBC Radio 4's World At One programme: "He's not broadening the appeal to take into account the views of people like me and other MPs and the views of our constituents. That isn't happening, that's why they didn't take on Ukip. Some of the pointy heads at the top of the party thought that Ukip doing well is what we needed."

As the results began to come in on Thursday night, Labour MP Graham Stringer also criticised the party's election campaign as "unforgivably unprofessional".

"I think the organisation of the campaign round him, both the people you don't see in the office and the campaign round Douglas has not performed as well as it should have done," he told the BBC. "The campaign itself has not been professional."

"The centrepiece of our campaign has been the cost of living and yet Ed didn't know his own cost of living when he went into it. He didn't know how much he was spending on shopping."

There has been an internal Labour Party debate how best to deal with Ukip. While some wanted to attack the party for being racist, others wanted to either focus on the notion of the anti-immigrant party being a more conservative Tory party - or ignore it all together.

The Ukip problem for Labour will also be examined on Sunday evening, when it is Farage, not Miliband, who is expected to top the European election poll.

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