Ukip has come north to offer itself as a party for blue-collar voters.
It is a fraudulent offer. In the first place, there is no disputing that the SNP talks the talk of a leftwing alternative to Labour in Scotland. Whether it also walks the walk is a different question, on which there are deeply divided views. But there is no disputing that tens of thousands of former Labour voters last week decided that their interests were safest with the SNP and the yes campaign. None of this is true of Ukip. Ukip is not a leftwing alternative to Labour or even the Tories, but a rightwing one — as the conference powerfully underlined.
Mr Farage said that the NHS would be safe in Ukip’s hands. This is simply incompatible with the classic Tory tax-cutting agenda that he then announced a few hours later, in which inheritance tax would be scrapped and those on skilled workers’ salaries would get a 5p income tax cut. The figures do not add up, and the gap between income and spending would widen still more if the flatter tax regime the party favours as a goal, with a further 5p cut in the top rate of income tax, ever came into force. Mr Farage is selling a lie.
None of this is to pretend that Ukip’s current claims will always fall on stony ground. Ukip’s rise in parts of old industrial Britain has been eased by Labour complacency and neglect. There is a widespread appetite for change. But the answer for Labour is to mount a principled response to Ukip, not to ape it.
What the metropolitan left generally doesn’t understand, not in its gut it doesn’t, is quite how right wing the core vote of the Labour Party is. The British working classes just don’t share most of the trendy concerns that motivate the urban intelligentsia. And it’s that that leaves that door wide open for someone to come in and nick that core vote.
This isn’t a prediction but it wouldn’t actually surprise me if Labour lost a swathe of those Northern and Industrial towns that have been electing dead donkeys as long as they wore a red rosette for the past century. Not because of any change in the desires of that core vote: but because the professional political class that claims to represent them simply doesn’t.