Received wisdom maintains that the UKIP vote is made up of disaffected, older Tories who are dissatisfied with Cameron’s socially liberal policies and relatively progressive stance on Europe. But look closer and you will see this is simply not the case. While UKIP does disproportionately draw support from Tory voters, polling has shown they can also boast substantial support from working-class Labour voters too.
UKIP have been able to do this by positioning themselves as a ‘none-of-the-above’, anti-Westminster party, and by driving home a simple message on immigration and- to a lesser extent- crime and welfare. In these policy areas working-class voters are generally less liberal than their middle-class counterparts, making the party’s social conservatism attractive.
Evidence of Farage’s explicit targeting of these working-class voters is visible in his incessant attempts to present UKIP as a party in touch with the concerns of ordinary, working people as opposed to an out-of-touch, liberal elite in Westminster.
But look behind the rhetoric and there is next to nothing working-class voters could be induced to support. UKIP are running on a turbo-libertarian economic ticket that would be even more devastating for the disadvantaged than coalition cuts. While Farage has apparently dropped a 31% flat tax rate that would see factory workers pay the same tax as chief executives, before the 2013 local elections UKIP were advocating huge cuts to corporation tax and the abolition of employer national insurance altogether, as well as £77bn worth of cuts to public expenditure with the loss of two million public sector jobs.
They want to see key NHS services, including hospitals and surgeries, franchised out to private companies and the scrapping of incapacity benefit and jobseekers allowance. These policies would well and truly spell the end for our health service and see the millions unemployed having to survive on a meagre ‘basic cash benefit’. All of this, of course, is to the benefit of the wealthiest at the expense of the poorest in society.
UKIP’s social policies offer another huge reason not to vote for the party if you are working-class and a) female b) homosexual, or c) an immigrant. From Farage claiming that an influx of Romanian immigrants will bring a crime wave to the UK to Godfrey Bloom saying “women are better at finding mustard in a pantry than driving a car”, UKIP’s views are as outdated as the term ‘pantry’.
They have been dogged by scandals including a candidate labelling gay sex “disgusting” and homosexuals as “not normal” and Godfrey Bloom describing foreign countries as “bongo-bongo land”. It took Farage until late 2013 to expel Bloom and then only after his antics had overshadowed the UKIP conference. Nevertheless, the party has taken a strongly conservative stance on social issues, would ban same-sex marriage, have made it quite clear they think a woman’s place is in the home and often stray into overt racism with their anti-immigration rhetoric.
It is true that the European Union (EU) is an imperfect institution. It is true that it needs reform. There are, indeed, aspects of the EU that run counter to my principles and beliefs. However, if we truly want a progressive EU working for a socially just UK and Europe then voting Labour is the only means to that end. Labour MEPs can work within the Party of European Socialists to bring about true progressive reform to the areas of the EU which need it and reinforce EU policies which protect workers and minorities in the UK.
UKIP, on the other hand, can only be relied on to hurt the most vulnerable to the betterment of the wealthiest and poison public debate with prejudice and bigotry. Labour can win the European elections in May, and we must do everything we can to stop UKIP claiming the mantle of the party of the working-class and bring home a victory for the progressive centre-left.