So, the Tories held Sleaford and North Hykeham in last night’s by-election, with UKIP in second place (in spite of not being able to spell the name of the place properly) and the LibDems pushing Labour into 4th place:
Cue the hand-wringing and knee-jerk reaction from the Labour right, with Yvette Cooper on the BBC’s Daily Politics programme yesterday not long after polls in Sleaford opened, let alone the result was announced, speaking out against immigration – in spite of the conflict of that with her strongly pro-EU position.
In spite of previously attacking Corbyn on the supposed grounds that he wasn’t ‘pro-EU enough’ in the referendum campaign – a position which would have meant absolute support for free movement – the message from the Labour right is that Sleaford – and Richmond Park before it – shows Labour is under threat from UKIP and needs to swing toward the ‘concerns’ of anti-immigrant voters.
In other words, the weather-vane mode so beloved of the politically-bankrupt ‘triangulators’, rather than the ‘signpost’ of those who actually believe in something.
In fact, while I guarantee you won’t hear this in the news at all, the result in Sleaford shows the exact opposite. Far from meaning Labour should ‘tack UKIP’ to appeal to the anti-immigrant vote, it should do the opposite and accentuate its difference.
I can hear the screams of the Blairite/Progress/Labour First supporters (all 500 of them), but it’s true. Here’s why.
It’s not true
Simply put, the anti-immigrant position – at least as far as the EU is concerned – is based on lies. The UK is substantially better off because of EU immigrants. Here’s a list of 10 facts that would probably astonish the people of Lincolnshire were they to stop and think about them:
The data are a few years old, but newer data would if anything reflect an even more extreme picture, as a result of further tightening of restrictions on immigrants claiming benefits etc.
Of course, you won’t hear the media – whether those owned by billionaire tax-exiles or the Tory-suborned BBC – telling you that EU immigrants cost the NHS £140 million but add a net £16 billion in tax revenues. But it’s true.
It’s not authentic
Labour attempting to mimic UKIP will not win votes. It will simply stink of fakery. The key appeal of Corbyn and of the Labour party under him is authenticity. He actually stands for something and abandoning that in the hope of a ‘pitch’ to something convenient but false will lose us votes, not gain them.
It’s not even authentic for the Labour triangulators. Bereft of any real vision, the one thing they are more or less universally genuine about is being pro-EU. So abandoning that to try to sound ‘tough on immigration’ won’t fool anyone and will lose them the one real thing about them – Yvette Cooper spouting on immigration to the BBC yesterday sounded grotesque, not convincing.
It won’t help
Labour were never going to win Sleaford. Just as Richmond Park is natural LibDem territory, Sleaford is Tory turf – even in the Labour landslide of 1997 it was a comfortable Tory win.
If Labour compromises on its core values to chase votes in seats it can’t win, it will be electoral suicide in the tighter pro-Labour areas where voters would see a party moving away from them, not toward, especially in the urban areas Labour relies on.
It’s not necessary
In spite of the frankly racist propaganda that has been force-fed to people for years by corrupt media and the ridiculous prevalence of Farage on TV panels, most people don’t hate immigrants, EU or otherwise.
What the media love to call valid or understandable ‘concerns about immigration’ are, in fact, concerns about the erosion of job security, falling incomes and unattainable housing that have nothing to do with immigrants and everything to do with the Tory worldview and policies that either don’t care about, or even deliberately foster, inequality.
Similarly with UKIP. Former leader Nigel Farage is a former investment banker who drinks a pint in public and loves champagne in private; who boasted about the hundreds of thousands of pounds he could milk from his position as an MEP and is, in reality, as far from being a ‘man of the people’ as I am from being pope.
New leader Paul ‘Meff’ Nuttall is an anti-equality, anti-NHS bigot who thinks he can appeal to the working class because of his scouse accent.
What Labour needs is something the Blairites love when it suits them – some ‘message discipline‘ – that speaks to what really concerns people. And it’s not Poles or Romanians.
Labour – if it can only make itself heard – is naturally, authentically strong on equality, job security, workers’ rights investing to grow and taking care of areas the Tories neglect. And under Corbyn, it’s strong on vision and a way to actually get somewhere better than where we’re at currently.
The wheels are coming off
If the UK is better off because of EU migrants, it will be worse off without them – and ironically places like Lincolnshire that will feel it first, because of a dependence on migrant agricultural workers that has local farmers in a frank panic about the prospects of being able to gather their harvests in next year and begging the government to do something.
The economic costs of Brexit will be largely focused in areas like Sleaford and North Hykeham – and in the industrial pro-leave areas like Middlesbrough and Sunderland, which receive billions in EU cash now and will certainly receive no more than a token gesture from a Tory government, if even that.
Those who are now voting Tory or UKIP because of their anti-immigrant rhetoric will start to change their tune when it hits them in their bank accounts and in their ability to get their fruit and veg picked and onto supermarket shelves.
Will that be enough to turn Sleaford and North Hykeham into a Labour seat? No, almost certainly not. But it can be enough in the marginal areas, which by definition are less entrenched in a particular viewpoint.
That is, as long as the Labour right help get the right message out – or at least indulge in a bit of self-defeating ‘STFU’.
Blairites or ‘Blur-rights’?
In fact, the big question arising from the Sleaford result is not whether Labour should ‘tack UKIP’ to chase anti-immigrant voters – it’s whether the Labour right is happy to spout a self-defeating message that will lead to a Labour defeat in the next General Election if it will allow them to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn and ‘take back control’ of a Labour party that, largely, considers them irrelevant at best.
Based on Ms Cooper’s BBCDP performance yesterday, the way her husband, Ed Balls, has used his Strictly profile to talk down Labour’s credibility and the performance of various Progress gloominaries, the answer to that appears to be a Big Fat ‘Yes‘.
Which means that Labour’s challenge post-Sleaford has nothing to with tacking toward UKIP and everything to do with getting its authentic message out.
And the signs are that this can only be achieved if the right-wingers who are blocking and blurring the message – whether MPs or party functionaries – are silenced or removed.
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