On Thursday night I was on ITV’s Around the House, with the Conservative Anne McIntosh MP as one of my opponents. She disregarded Ukip as being ‘just another flash in the pan, like the Green Party and Referendum Party before’.
The Referendum Party fell back because their only policy was adopted by other parties. The Greens capitalised upon an anti-politician feeling, then fell away.
Ukip is here to stay because we’ve proved it over a longer period of time. We get councillors elected in significant numbers nationally, and Coun Norman Dennis took a seat in Labour’s South Shields heartland at a recent by-election.
We won the last European elections nationally, finishing in first position here in Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Redcar, Stockton, South Shields, and – and just a whisker behind in Northumberland. At Parliamentary by-elections, Ukip is on the march – 39% in Heywood & Middleton and 60% in Clacton show we’ve come a long way even since the second place finishes in South Shields and Middlesbrough.
Secondly, the anti-politics sentiment which Ukip is tapping into is new. Much of our support comes from people who haven’t voted for decades, because they’ve never had a party they could believe in. In the polls where Greens/Referendum Party were at their peak the Conservatives and Labour were still taking around 80% of the vote between them. People’s trust in politics and our Westminster politicians hadn’t been eroded to the extent it has today. In 1997, after 18 years of Conservative government, there was optimism that a Labour government would offer something new and exciting. It didn’t.
Thirdly, we’re not a single-issue Party like the Referendum Party (or how the Greens were perceived). Our ‘no tax on minimum wage’ policy would help hard-working people in the grip of poverty. Our ‘colour-blind’ immigration policy, an Australian-style points-based system which would treat potential immigrants from Greece or France fairly in exactly the same way as those from India, is hugely popular on the doorstep.
Our belief in bringing power back from politicians and giving it to the people through referenda would drag democracy kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
Fourthly, Ukip’s rise is a scale not seen by the Greens/Referendum Party decades ago; our highest Westminster poll was 25% - double what they ever achieved.
Finally, to paraphrase Voltaire, if Ukip did not exist it would be necessary to invent it. Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have all sought after the centre ground of politics. They’ve all tried to appeal to the politically-correct suburban London voter, which is all very well and good but it doesn’t do much for people in the North East. Maybe that’s why the North East gets so little spent on our transport infrastructure, leading to overcrowded trains and the main route to Edinburgh remaining single-carriageway.
The Conservatives are complacent about the Ukip threat; here, Labour have started to wake up – but their NHS attacks on Ukip are blatantly disingenuous. Ukip’s Policies for People document says “Ukip will not charge you to see your GP”. Labour claim the opposite, forgetting the words of their own Lord Winston, who suggested that people would value the NHS more if they had to pay £200 to use it! After Labour part-privatised the NHS through PFI, and at a time when the Labour administration in Wales has messed up the health system so badly that people are crossing the border to use the English system, they’re hardly in a position to sling mud at Ukip!
But at least Labour in the North East hasn’t sunk to the murky depths of Richard Howitt MEP, who tweeted the sick comment “Ukip says abort disabled children, put people w/learning diffs in camps & bans disabled candidates”. Ukip councillor Star Etheridge responded “As a disabled person myself who encourages all other disabled people to enter politics, I find Mr Howitt’s repulsive comments deeply insulting and it is clear that he is not fit for office.” Richard Howitt wouldn’t even apologise for his comments.
Labour have set up another anti-Ukip unit. That’s great news – the last time they did that, we shot up in the polls and won the European elections. Bring on the General Election next year!
- Jonathan Arnott is UKIP MEP for the North East