After a weekend in the sun, listening to the brass band and chatting to voters - Edward Robinson contributes some thoughts on countering UKIP
It was a beautifully sunny day this Saturday (and for a lot of Sunday) in Hoddesdon, perfect for getting out and chatting to voters. I actually met a good number of Labour members and lots of people who said they were planning on voting Labour or would consider voting Labour.
I also really enjoyed getting chatting to a number of people who said they were considering voting UKIP.
These people are attracted to UKIP for a number of reasons. They are annoyed by a political system that they think is failing. I can sympathise with them there. And they think voting UKIP is the best way of registering this disaffection. But this doesn't mean that they are actually that similar in inclination to Nigel Farage or to the right wing of the Tory party. Voting UKIP for these people is more of a political tactic it seems.
In fact what interests me most is that many of the people I speak to, who are most tempted by UKIP, don’t seem to harbour any personal animosity against immigrants at all or to come across as overly nationalistic. They are more worried about what you might call 'structural changes’ like the polarization of the economy into high and low skills, coupled to the concern that immigration was heightening exploitation in the workplace, reducing wages and putting pressure on public services and the welfare state.
Academic research doesn't really bear this out. Many people immigrate to Britain to work in high paid jobs where there is a skills shortage (not to mention those who come to work in our public services). But, nonetheless, in these scenarios it's worth highlighting Labour's commitment to fairness. Labour is in favour of freedom of movement. It is a historical achievement. But we are fundamentally against workplace exploitation and benefit fraud. If you want to come here and work, great. Labour will always be on your side. If you are exploited by low pay and poor conditions, Labour is your party. We are the party of the trade unions. We introduced the minimum wage and we'll raise it in government. If you are worried that people are claiming benefit they don't deserve, Labour is clear on that too. Our welfare state was designed like a national insurance policy, with the contributory principle at its heart. It is designed to help people in temporary need, and it is an indictment on our current state of affairs that it is so often required for people in work, as well as for those people who want to work but whose talent is going to waste. My personal view is that benefit fraud is a side issue – but we must reassure people that we are opposed to it.
My view at the moment is that what a lot of UKIP supporters really want is security, prosperity and a fair chance. But that is what the Left stands for - not the Right. It should make them natural Labour supporters. Some were horrified when I quoted Nigel Farage's views on privatising the NHS. That isn't what they want at all. But we have to win back their trust that we are not just another establishment party like the Tories and the Lib Dems, we are a radical party that wants to change Britain very seriously, in their interests.
So the message to me was clear. We will not beat UKIP by aping it. We will beat UKIP by highlighting our socialist and social democratic values. Shared prosperity, fairness, a high-pay-high-skill economy and quality, universal public services. We are welcoming to immigrants who want to work, but we do not support exploitation in any of its forms.
Edward Robinson is Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate in Broxbourne