By Barry Gardiner
Labour parliamentary candidate for Brent North
IT WOULD normally be a cause for minor celebration that UKIP – the most right-wing, anti-immigrant party in British politics – lost 145 of its 146 council seats in the local elections.
Sadly it is not.
Because those UKIP voters have found themselves a new home with the right-wing nationalistic rhetoric of the Conservative Party under Theresa May.
May is the home secretary who sent the immigration vans into Brent telling people to “Go Home. Or face arrest”. She is the new champion of the anti-EU British nationalism. But she has travelled an unprincipled journey in order to secure those UKIP votes.
Anyone who cares to follow the link here to this archive footage of her passionately explaining why she wanted to remain in the EU can only either laugh at the irony or throw their hands up in despair.
British politics has now fractured dramatically.
Two referendums have ensured that. The old divide was simple. It was between those who were socially conservative and those who were socially progressive. The Brexit referendum has divided people in a new way around identity: leave or remain. The referendum on Scottish independence similarly divided people into unionist or separatist. These new groups do not sit on top of the old left/right, conservative/progressive split. They cut across them.
I am a patriotic Scotsman. I am also a patriotic British citizen. In this new post-referendum era, some people think those two statements are incompatible. I do not. The patriot can express his love of country in many ways, but the nationalist can only express his love for his country by denigrating others. That is the problem with the new alliance between Conservative and UKIP voters.
They believe the only way to express their Britishness is by being against those who are not British.
Last Thursday (4), people voted in elections for local government in the shire counties of England as well as in elections throughout Wales and Scotland. Labour’s strength lies in the English cities, not in the rural areas which have traditionally voted Conservative. As such, Labour was not expected to do particularly well. The two special elections for metro mayors in Liverpool and Manchester City regions predictably went to Labour, but Labour had also hoped to win the mayoralty for the West Midlands which fell to the Conservatives in the closest of contests.
It was a bad night for Labour, losing 382 council seats. But it was made worse by the wholesale switch of UKIP voters to the Conservatives. Labour won more than 700 more seats than either the Lib Dems or the SNP, but that does not make up for being more than 700 seats behind the Conservatives.
The shire counties may not be an accurate predictor of a general election, but for Labour they have been a clarion call to go onto the doorsteps and explain to voters that this election – called not in the national interest – is perhaps our last chance to secure a Labour future for our country that is about openness and optimism, where young people see opportunities for themselves in a world of partnership rather than years of debt in a world where the UK is increasingly isolated and parochial.
As we look forward to June 8, I would urge everyone who goes to the polls to cast their vote thinking not only of their own immediate shortterm interests, but of a country in which their wider family, their children and grandchildren will be able to thrive irrespective of their ethnicity or religion; irrespective of their social or economic background. A country in which money cannot buy preferment, but where everyone in society feels their contribution is valued fairly.
Rescue the future. Vote Labour on June 8.