Although the British electorate is left-wing on many issues, it is also true that significant portions of the electorate are quite right-wing on some issues, particularly in the wake of the European Sovereign Debt Crisis.
The rise of unconventional right-wing parties across Europe such as UKIP in Britain, the Front National in France, and Jobbik in Hungary presents a real danger that politics rooted in fear and distrust of the ‘Constitutive Other’ and it is Labour who must be at the front-line fighting against this negative narrative.
Part 5: Countering right-wing populism
Using policies based on increasing community cohesion rather than scapegoating immigrants and ethnic minorities through Draconian immigration rules whilst also tapping into distrust of politics through proposing democratic reforms will see many of the voters who flocked to UKIP in 2015 possibly consider voting Labour.
UKIP’s tactic of fusing the issue of Europe with immigration in order to advocate EU withdrawal was tactically effective, however it is essential re-establish a differentiation between these issues by advocating policies that would significantly reform the European Union. The messaging around left-wing policies is also crucial in depleting UKIP’s vote, as their policy positions vary from across the political spectrum.
A tracker poll by YouGov in April 2015 showed that the third most important issue that voters were concerned about was Immigration, behind only the Economy and Health. Many people concerned about immigration often preface their remarks with ‘I’m not racist…’, which is very important before claiming that a country is ‘full’.
This perception is caused by two factors: being told by authority, whether the government or the media, that immigration is too high, and chronic underinvestment in public services that therefore cannot cope with the additional demand. The solution is therefore not to set arbitrary targets about capping the number of migrants, it is to increase investment in public services which would maintain the current quality of service despite any increases in local population.
Cuts to government departments and administration has reduced the ability of state to enforce the minimum wage allowing for unscrupulous employers to exploit unskilled migrants from abroad, suppressing the wages of British workers in the process.
Reversing cuts to border staff would also improve the quality of service in processing immigrants arriving at any border crossing, whilst also improving the service for people already resident in the UK passing through; re-establishing exit checks would also give the Home Office a better ability to keep track of whether people on short-term visas were leaving the country or not. Labour must put forward a clear message to the British electorate that the fears they have over immigration are deliberately being fostered to defect criticism away from bad government policy.
In 2011 David Cameron called on migrants to learn English so they could better integrate with their local communities, but in the same year the government restricted the levels of funding for immigrants wishing to learn English to those on Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employability Skills Allowance. In order to undercut UKIP support, a left-wing Labour government must reinstate funding for these English lessons whilst promoting a narrative, as the Greens did particularly well in 2015, of the benefits brought to Britain by immigrants.
The final policy regarding immigration that Labour must advocate is to support a co-ordinated international effort to prevent the causes of mass immigration, particularly across the Mediterranean Sea in recent months. In a previous post I suggested that the Labour Party should increase foreign aid to 1% of GDP; although this wouldn’t be politically expedient for discouraging people from voting UKIP in the short-term, using foreign aid and foreign policy to stabilise countries and preventing humanitarian crises.
A Labour government working with our friends in the EU, the US, China etc. to invest in the national infrastructure of countries in Africa and the Middle East would create economic opportunities in their own countries, stemming the flow of economic migrants; investment in local agriculture projects and stopping interventionist wars would also reduce the numbers of people seeking asylum in the longer-term.
Political reforms of Westminster are also crucial in tapping into the UKIP protest vote that may not wish to leave the EU but wished to put lend their support to an anti-Westminster party.
The Expenses Scandal in 2009 saw hostility toward politicians and Westminster sky-rocket overnight, with the newspaper media disclosing the expenses of MPs charging the taxpayer all manner of different things. Right wing populists in the Conservative Party and UKIP sometimes say that expenses should be abolished and MPs should get a higher salary, with costs absorbed by them; this suggestion, due probably to its simplicity, often gets broad support among sections of the electorate.
Labour should resist the temptation of this policy as it would mean that MPs in London would be paid more than MPs from Newcastle because of the cost of travel. Labour’s response should be something more nuanced by just as radical; Labour should ban MPs from declaring second homes in London and replace this system with apartments provided by the state that are functional with bills for electricity, water etc. paid for by the member based on utility usage. By giving apartments to MPs in the same location MPs would not be able to buy a second home in London for their job as a public servant and then sell it on once they have left office for a tidy profit.
Labour should also introduce stricter regulations around MPs having second jobs, setting out specific exceptions such as writing an article or maintaining professional qualifications. Finally Labour should commit itself to the right of recall and legislate to allow constituents to force a by-election.
The main reason that people claim to vote UKIP is because they wish to leave the EU; Labour should remain a proud pro-European party, so people dead-set on wanting to leave will not consider Labour.
Ed Miliband was wrong not to offer a referendum before the last election. Although I agree with his reasoning as it not being a priority, by not promising a referendum people that wished to see a change in the UK’s relationship with Europe would be more inclined to vote for the Tories; ‘reform’ is a very vague word and Miliband should have said the same as Cameron. On the issue of strategy, many people in Labour’s northern heartlands voted for UKIP because they wanted to change their relationship with Europe, and by adopting the same policy as the Conservatives, Cameron couldn’t monopolise the idea of European reform and portray Labour as wanting the status quo.
Now that there will be a referendum on the EU in 2017 Labour must come out with a reform package to show that it actually cares about the concerns of people that rightly see the EU as undemocratic and distant.
Despite its geopolitical symbolism, and its practical impossibility due to a French veto of any treaty change, Labour must propose the abolition of the Strasbourg Parliament with all sessions being held in Brussels on environmental and financial grounds.
Working within the Socialists & Democrats grouping in the European Parliament Labour should look to rebalance the EU budget away from agriculture and towards developmental aid for Eastern Europe.
Significant reform of the Common Fisheries Policy to focus on environmental sustainability and community aid for towns looking at economic diversification would also demonstrate to coastal communities that a more left-wing Labour Party has their interests at heart.
The most important issue facing the EU currently is the Eurozone Crisis; even though Labour’s position to act is somewhat harder because the UK is not a member of the single currency, Labour must echo the calls of the left-of-centre parties to have a pan-European debt restructuring and cancellation conference to stabilise the countries of Southern Europe to prevent the collapse of the European project.
By setting out a comprehensive EU reform package Labour can recapture support from people opposed to the EU in its current form whilst also delivering a proudly pro-European message.
The final aspect of Labour’s approach to dealing with right-wing populism is messaging Labour’s policies in the correct way to appeal to different sections of society. For example on the idea of renationalising utilities, which many UKIP supporters agree with, Labour should phrase the issue as the government running the service instead of companies like EDF, which is part owned by the French-state, exploiting people in Britain for the benefit of the French taxpayer; this argument could also be used in regards to the role of the RATP group’s influence over transport in London.
Another characteristic of right-wing populism is promoting the military and supporting veterans in readjusting back into civilian life, but with Labour advocating a non-interventionist foreign policy, as I have mentioned in another post, the party can claim that this is preventing the creation of more veterans which would also save money in healthcare costs in the long-run.
The toughest sell to right-wing voters would be the importance of foreign aid in providing stability as many people see it as giving money away to corrupt governments; what Labour must do is point out incredibly loudly and clearly that by building up countries economically will create regional stability and discourage people from emigrating to the West. On the second aspect of money going to dictators, Labour’s policy to give foreign aid to countries that meet stringent human rights criteria would combat the flood of scaremongering that comes from some aspects of the newspaper media.
Labour’s challenge to right-wing populism is a combination of preventing situations from arising that would make people consider more extreme policies, whilst also acknowledging that concerns over political reform immigration are real.
Although there will always be some that oppose Europe or have a distrust of immigrant, minimising the numbers of people that are receptive to those arguments is essential in preventing far-right organisations from getting a platform in mainstream political discourse.