Andrew Whitaker: Farage comeback threat to Labour

The unsavoury face of Ukip could cause future difficulties for the comrades, warns Andrew Whitaker

Nigel Farage has almost disappeared from our screens, but could yet appeal to the disaffected poor. Picture: Joey Kelly

FOR what seemed like forever Nigel Farage was scarcely off our TV screens whether it was his talking up of what he confidently predicted would be the Ukip insurgency at the general election or an appearance on a reality TV show with a “meet Nigel Farage” type theme.

The Eurosceptic party was on the march, we were told by Farage, who promised to break the mould of British politics in a way fledgling minority parties had failed to do in the past.

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A master of self-promotion, Farage appeared at one stage to be on the cusp – against the odds – of sweeping gains at Westminster for a party viewed by many as being full of archetypal right-wing pub bores.

Farage was ultra confident he would himself join the two Ukip MPs elected in by-elections in the last parliament at Westminster and go on to take seats from both Labour and the Tories, making it a force to be reckoned with in the Commons.

Since the much-vaunted breakthrough failed to happen for Ukip, with the party keeping just one of its Commons seats and failing to make gains elsewhere, the Farage show now seems to be much less of a TV draw.

True, Farage has been wheeled out to comment on the Greek crisis and will doubtless be again as the in-out referendum gets closer, but it could be almost like a onetime TV regular who is brought back for a one-off variety show or even playing summer season on the pier at a seaside resort.

After the complete lack of humanity the Ukip leader displayed with remarks during a TV leaders’ debate when he suggested foreign-born HIV sufferers should be excluded from NHS treatment, there are many who would welcome him disappearing from our screens in the same way comics such as Jim Davidson did some years ago.

Farage, speaking in the ITV debate, said: “You can come into Britain from anywhere in the world and get diagnosed with HIV and get the retro-viral drugs that cost up to £25,000 per year per patient.”

With another cast member from the Ukip show, former MEP Ashley Mote, now expelled from the party, sent to jail last week for expenses fraud there will always be a circus of one sort or another associated with the party.

It may well be that Ukip will continue to fail to make a breakthrough at Westminster while continuing to perform well at the low-key European parliament elections that attract god-awfully low turnouts.

But just like its more extreme rivals parties in the far right BNP and National Front, it’s always a mistake to write off nationalistic forces like Ukip that seek to appeal to often low-income voters by blaming their predicament on eastern European immigrants rather than the seemingly never-ending austerity and gross inequality that exists in society.

Like the BNP and NF, Ukip has descended into infighting after its failure to make the breakthrough it had predicted with a number of leadership figures withdrawing from active politics including Farage’s former chief of staff Raheem Kassam.

Farage’s party is not an overtly racist one like the BNP or the NF, both of which have had fascistic and neo-Nazi links.

But there’s no doubting that Farage’s Ukip has been gripped by its fair share of race rows, including the notorious episode this year when the party expelled a member caught making racist remarks in a BBC documentary.

Farage himself was accused of calling for laws banning racial discrimination in the workplace to be scrapped, while Ukip’s Scottish MEP David Coburn appeared to compare SNP international development minister Humza Yousaf to the convicted terrorist Abu Hamza in a interview shortly before the election. Ukip has in the past styled itself as an anti-welfare state party that opposes workers rights, principally because they believe many emanate from the EU.

However, as the first majority Tory government in more than 20 years pursues its turbo charged programme of austerity, turning part of the UK’s social fabric into a wreckage, expect to see a Ukip pitch to those hit by such cutbacks.

As things stand Ukip looks more concerned with infighting and does not appear to be much of a threat in the main forthcoming electoral contests such as next year’s Scottish parliament elections and the London mayoral contest.

But parties of the hard right are capable of regrouping where they can smell the whiff of a chance to capitalise on poverty afflicted areas.

While Ukip failed to take a single Westminster seat off Labour it is true enough to say the party’s 12.6 per cent per cent share of the vote harmed Ed Miliband’s Labour party at May’s election by taking votes in critical marginals in the north and Midlands that it had needed to win to form a government.

Conversely many who had been minded to back Ukip in the south and south-east appeared to drift back to the Tories – a factor that appears to have helped David Cameron win an overall majority.

Any serious Labour supporter can now plainly see it was a grievous errors not to call out Ukip by going on the attack and pointing out that its nasty brand of nationalism would do nothing to drive up the living standards of working-class people and would simply create a more mean-spirited society.

For unless Labour prepares itself to front up Ukip somewhere down the line, there’s always a fear the Eurosceptic and anti-immigration party could mount a comeback that could cause Labour even more harm next time around.

Suppose Ukip opted to target rock solid Labour areas in cities such as Newcastle, Teesside and Wearside, where the BNP incidentally had a minority presence.

What if in areas where local Labour parties are moribund but where its candidates still get in with large majorities albeit on low turnouts, Ukip were to start to aggressively target them?

If Ukip sought to professionalise itself somewhat again – and remember the party has been bankrolled in the past by figures such as spread-betting tycoon Stuart Wheeler – it could target such areas maybe even taking the model of Scotland where the SNP spectacularly managed to oust a Labour Party that was perceived to have taken the electorate for granted.

Of course, Labour faces a huge task to win back support in Scotland after its devastating losses to the SNP as well as an uphill battle at the 2020 election to avoid a third successive defeat at the hands of the Tories.

A battle with Ukip would mean a fight on a third front, but far better for whoever is elected as Labour’s new leader in September to plan for the possibility of Farage’s party rearing its ugly head once again than risk further election misery.

Perhaps the best advice on the message Labour should be ready to put out to its supporters targeted by UKip came from former Labour MSP John Park – now part of the leadership of the Community trade union.

Park said: “Ukip is trying to con working-class people and is on the side of the rich. Ukip is the worst of the worst. It’s far to the right of the Tories and close to the BNP.”