Revolt on the Left: Labour’s UKIP problem and how it can be overcome

Marcus Roberts

UKIP divides the Labour party internally. To date, senior Labour figures have been unable to agree whether a UKIP really problem exists and, if it does, how problematic it is likely to prove.

In a new Fabian report, ‘Revolt on the Left’, we argue that UKIP poses a clear and present danger to Labour’s 2015 hopes and, left unchecked, could threaten to pull apart the party’s historic electoral coalition and challenge it in large swathes of its heartland territory. The report incorporates new demographic analysis that, constituency by constituency, measures UKIP’s threat to the two main political parties.

Our research cross referenced demographic data  based on ‘Left behind’ Mosaic groups favourable to UKIP with 2010 parliamentary majorities to create a UKIP Threat Index which considered the scale of UKIP threat in terms of critical, very serious, serious and moderate ratings.

There are five critical and high-risk seats under direct threat by UKIP, for both Labour and the Conservatives each:

  • Labour seats under direct UKIP threat: Great Grimsby, Dudley North, Plymouth Moor View, Rother Valley, Rotherham
  • Con seats under direct UKIP threat: Clacton, South Thanet, Thurrock, Great Yarmouth, Waveney

Six critical and very serious indirect threat seats that the Conservatives might lose to Labour as a result of the UKIP threat: Warwickshire North, Cardiff North, Broxtowe, Stroud, Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire, and Pudsey

Sixteen critical and very serious indirect threat seats which Labour might lose to Conservatives as a result of UKIP-Labour considerers: Southampton Itchen, Great Grimsby, Walsall North, Plymouth Moor View, Telford, Dudley North, Halifax, Wolverhampton NE, Birmingham Edgbaston, Blackpool South, Walsall South, Leicester West, Nottingham South, Southampton Test, Birmingham Northfield, and Wakefield

Four critical and very serious indirect threat Labour target seats which it could fail to win as a result of UKIP-Labour considerers: Plymouth Sutton & Devonport, Carlisle, Lincoln and Ipswich.


Labour should stress a combination of cost of living issues (energy price freeze, increasing the minimum wage, capping rent increases) with policies that speak to UKIP considerers core anxieties (such as the introduction by some Labour councils of residency requirements for council house waiting lists and curbs on welfare payments to families who live overseas). Beyond this, Labour should consider promoting more contribution in welfare, ring fence a large number of its proposed 200,000 new homes for local people and switch from EU free movement of labour, to fair movement of labour.


abour should cease using the top-down message of ‘Only Labour’ and embrace Ed Miliband’s more inclusive language of ‘Together we can’ to signal the shift from a Labour party that presumes to have all the answers to one that listens and works with voters. This should speak  to UKIP considerers distrust of politicians’ promises through more inclusive language and politics.


Labour should shift its campaigners efforts to community campaigning on local issues like pay day loan and betting shops, litter picks and night safety campaigns that reconnect Labour with the local community, demonstrate how change can happen, and help restore trust in politics. Doorstep conversations with UKIP considerers should be longer with voters’ concerns genuinely listened to and repeat contacts made.

Revolt on the Left: Labour’s UKIP problem and how it can be overcome by Marcus Roberts (Incorporating research from Rob Ford and Ian Warren) is available to read online.


  1. Jon

    Heywood and Middleton

    Am I the only one who looks at the actual statistics?

    The Labour vote increased by 1%

    Before we all run about like headless chickens and decide to embrace left wing Tory policies should we not take a detailed look at the voters and why the Labour vote increased?

    The next general election is one that is Labour’s to lose, not the Tories, UKIP or even the LibDems to win.

    It is the running away from core Labour values and policies that has caused a panic at the top.

    Is it not time that Ed practices what he preaches and actually listens to the grassroots Party. I hope this is not a case of ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’

  2. Gerald Holtham

    I think Marcus Robert is erecting a bogeyman. In the 16 seats that Labour could lose to the Conservatives, he seems to be supposing that Labour voters will defect to UKIP while Tory voters will not, But UKIP picks up votes in the ratio 2:1 from Conservative and Labour respectively, If that is reproduced in the 16 seats the most likely outcome is an increased Labour majority. Moreover in any seat where Labour has a majority, if UKIP look strong Conservative voters will switch tactically to get Labour out, squeezing the Tory vote. It is easy to believe Labour could lose a few seats to UKIP, very difficult to believe it will lose any to the Conservatives. UKIP is to the Conservatives what the Social Democrats were to Labour – an electoral drag anchor. The centre left is reuniting as social democrats leave the LibDems who are subsiding to the status of the old Liberal party. Meanwhile UKIP divides the right. All Labour need do is hold its nerve – admittedly difficult for a party that thought it would lose in 1945 and wasn’t sure it was going to win in 1997! Labour can’t even see a landslide coming its way. This isn’t one of those but the party is on course for a majority. More worrying than the election is that the party seems to have no clear idea what it will do in government since we have more gimmicks than policies.

  3. James Doran

    I agree with Carl’s comments above and would like to add a bit about where the threat could come from and ways in which Labour’s current response to UKIP could have adverse effects.

    UKIP could emerge as a major competitor in Labour’s local government heartlands in Northern England, not threatening parliamentary seats as much as being an effective populist opposition to councils which have long been controlled by Labour, bringing together voters who would not otherwise be voting the same way. As local government services are being removed or eroded by austerity, Labour councillors seem to expect a Labour government to solve funding problems. It looks more likely that these funding problems will grow – and UKIP could be best placed to exploit dissatisfaction with rising council tax and declining service provision.

    We need to be conscious that UKIP doesn’t need the kind of grassroots presence that have aided a loss of Labour votes to the LibDems, independents, or Greens. They get saturation media coverage on the issues they point to as problems. As a protest vote, they could have as much impact on Labour as the LibDems did after 2003.

    The UKIP threat could lead to Labour MPs adopting positions on migration and social security which would be politically unsustainable. Imagine the response to the Tories on their economic programme was to endorse the basis of it by agreeing with them on spending cuts. Oh, wait… That’s happening. And with much the same potential consequences – except here, the gains could be by the Greens.

  4. Carl Rowlands

    Marcus has done well to recognise the scale of the issue. But perhaps a better place to start in looking at the totality is James Meek’s article in the London Review of Books ( He writes about the situation of one of Kent’s schools, rebuilt in 2007 as part of a PFI package:

    ‘until 2032, the premises are owned, maintained and controlled by a Luxembourg-based investment vehicle called Bilfinger Berger Global Infrastructure, which also owns hospitals in Canada and prisons in Australia. Bilfinger Berger, in turn, subcontracts the job of running the school to the outsourcing company Mitie, which, among its many other deals, has the government contract for the forced removal of immigrants through Heathrow. The school is obliged to rent its own buildings, and to pay Mitie’s charges for maintenance or alterations. ‘Every time we want to change a light bulb, it costs £25,’ Colin Harris, the deputy head, told me. ‘

    Ultimately Labour currently lacks the political credibility to tackle UKIP, precisely because the overwhelming majority of the generation that entered Labour politics during the 1990s totally accepted that the state *in any form* was inherently inferior as a provider of public goods. If this neo-liberal ideology is taken to its logical extreme, it leaves a huge democratic deficit, as elected officials are reduced to being appendices in a huge ongoing system of tendering. This itself creates a massive area for right-wing populists who offer simplistic solutions.

    And no matter what we think about the EU, we should recognise that Labour, following the lead of the Major administrations, has been instrumental in Europe at arguing against financial regulation, against more radical social democratic policies which would have restored some social elements to the EU’s project. Behind closed doors, Labour, under the guidance of senior party members, have argued intensely for EU enlargement, liberalisation of goods, labour and services. Let’s not pretend otherwise. Marcus isn’t arguing, for example, that a company such as EDF, set to be locked into an embrace with the British state for the next fifty years, should be partially nationalised, or accept government nominations onto its Board of Directors.

    Here we reach an impasse. Labour have not been honest. Labour representatives in Europe have been advocating liberalism, at nearly every level, and when faced with the political consequences of this, those trying to face the issue have squirming. The vague promise to do something about European mobility of labour, whilst rejecting a referendum, is nothing but that. If the EU is unbalanced, it is the Labour who’ve played as big a role as anybody in driving this, by being disingenuous for the last 20 years. Opting for domestic neo-liberalism, arguing for neo-liberalism and low regulation abroad, and then blaming Europe for the consequences – perhaps the amazing thing is that UKIP aren’t *more* popular.

    In order for the argument that Labour politicians care about the English working class (let’s not use ‘white working class’) it would obviously help if there were some Labour politicians who were recognisably of the English working class. There may well be some MPs who meet this description; but unfortunately, we come back again to the 1990s generation, which only increased the middle-class representation amongst Labour whilst embedding people as a direct result of student politics. If Labour wants to fight UKIP on a long-term basis, it will have to change radically. Someone with a white-collar NGO background, such as John Denham, however well-intentioned, is in some ways as much part of the problem, as he is the solution. This is not a personal criticism of one of the better MPs and Fabians of recent years, but it intends to illustrate that Labour, to put it bluntly, need more Harry Perkins and less Peter Mandelsons if there is going to be any credible response.

    I don’t think it’s an entirely lost cause, but the odds against Labour are currently high, regardless of the election result next year. There’s a lot at stake here. The two big questions for me are as follows.

    Firstly, can Labour define an honest role for itself? Will it continue to reach for the sepia-tinted memory of a traditional movement, whilst cynically perpetuating the post-Thatcher economic settlement? If anything, some of the Left of the Party have been equally disingenuous, or at least, suffer from an extreme case of wishful thinking. It’s not enough to say that Labour is a ‘broad church.’ Without a unified direction, this means nothing. As Richard Wilkinson implies in his recent pamphlet, the heaviest load borne by people tends now to be psychological, rather than physical. Only some of the Labour left seem to recognise how much world has changed, and continues to change, and how the result risks the kind of atomisation in which all sorts of ideologies can breed. The safety blanket which the left of Labour clings to – Ian Martin described it as ‘like the Beatles, or an old church’ – is probably blinding people to the reality of the situation.

    Secondly, is Labour able to interpret issues consistently and apply a set of values according to basic decency? Just a cursory look at some of the Fabian pamphlets indicates to me that there are still a fair few people who are able to do this, but it doesn’t come across from the Shadow Cabinet. Ultimately, no matter what shadow ministers say now, the grip of austerity across the UK, and across Europe, has to be broken, by whatever means necessary. Labour cannot push the economic policy of the 1930s National Government and survive to tell any tale, let alone a tale about UKIP.

    Finally, what would be the wrong response to UKIP, worse, in many ways, than doing nothing? It would be stupid populism – passing ridiculous laws aimed specifically at people who verbally abuse the armed forces, for example. For an obviously middle-class chap such as Ed Miliband to follow this route, while sticking to austerity economics, would be nothing else but a path to political oblivion. And I don’t think Labour heading towards oblivion would help. That’s why I’m here.

  5. Ben

    I actually think UKIP’s presence in the (currently Tory) marginals of Morecambe & Lunesdale and Blackpool North & Cleveleys will be more likely to cause Labour problems than in Blackpool South, where Labour’s lead is simply going to increase in absence of a united opposition.

    • David Owen

      I wonder if the result onThursday of the bye-election in Waterloo Ward of Blackpool Council carries any signpost of what might happen across the town next May when the whole of the Council faces re-election. Labour presently holds two-thirds of the Council. This seat has been Tory held over the years and the bye-election was called by Unip after the sitting Tory member died. Turnout: 22%

      Tory: 406 (34.5%)
      UKIP: 372 (31.6%)
      Labour: 347 (29.5%)
      LibDem: 34 (3%)
      BNP: 17 (1.5%)

  6. Jon

    Oh dear – Cardiff North?
    This inclusion makes me doubt the validity of any data included.

    2010 result Julie Morgan lost by under 200 votes in a constituency that historically had been safe Tory.

    UKIP has no real prescence here.

    Llandaf North ByElection for local council yesterday –

    Labour 898
    Independent 419
    UKIP 204
    Conservative 136
    Lib Dem 134
    The turnout was 30.06%

    Admittedly a more working class area than the whole demographic, but somewhat relevant?

    Local Labour have been actively campaigning for over a year it shows results?

    The threat, in local elections is from Independents, in Rhiwbina, a defiiately more middle class area, we have 3 representing us as councillors with very large majorities.

    You also seem to have excluded local representation. Everyone knew Julie – who is the Tory? does he do anything?

    Labour should win Cardiff North but it will not be because of UKIP. It will because of the hard work of the candidate Mari Williams and what can only be described as the Tory laziness that has lost both the council and constituency seats in the past few decades.

    And my credentials? I just happen to live in Cardiff North in the home my grandfather bought when it was built in 1923.

    UKIP is not a threat to Labour IF Labour forgets American electioneering and goes back to basic Socialist Policies that will give us (plebs) something to vote for.

  7. Terry Casey

    Ukip is less of a problem than the defection of many core voters due to the following of Tory policies, they see nothing on offer that will improve their lives just a lot more of the same. they see the rich getting richer including our politicians while they are getting very little. Blair continued Tory policies and look where that got us, 35 years of these policies haven’t worked yet we still embrace them, it is lunacy, 1/2 of the worlds wealth in a few hands surely that is not what we are signed up to.

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