I blogged yesterday about Labour complaints of media bias. While it seems clear that Britain’s media is pretty conservative in nature and in favour of neo-liberal capitalism, I don’t really buy that as the reason why Labour are struggling to get their message across. After all, the modern Labour Party is pretty conservative and full of neo-liberals itself. It seems to many of us that there’s little to distinguish between Labour and the Tories. Could this be a more plausible reason for their closeness in the polls?
UKIP’s success has come on the back of hammering two simple messages – i) the UK should get out of the EU, largely because ii) membership means open borders to 500m people. To bolster the effect of their message, they have appealed to people’s innate fear of the unknown and the different to fuel concern about the number of new arrivals who are ‘not like you’ or are ‘after your job’. This tactic is as old as the hills, but should be relatively easy to counteract.
While there will always be racists who will vote for far-right parties, most people are not racist, but many do have concerns that are quite easy to link to immigration (if you had an incentive to do so). So what are these?
- Rising rents
- Lack of social housing
- High long-term unemployment
- Long waits at A&E of for a GP’s appointment
- Lack of school places
If you are struggling to get a council house but hear stories of a Roma family jumping the queue, or a young person unable to find work and being labelled a scrounger while the person who serves you in the pub has a ‘foreign’ accent, if you don’t get your first choice of school or can’t get an appointment with your GP for a week, it is quite easy for politicians to take those frustrations and blame it on ‘uncontrolled immigration’. A lot of people swallow this and vote for the party promising to do something about it. Whether any of these issues are actually due to immigration or not doesn’t matter at the moment because no party other than UKIP is offering any solutions. UKIP are right that there is an open-door policy to EU citizens regardless of quality, and no one else seems to want to argue directly why they think this is a good thing. This is nevertheless the position of Labour, Conservatives and the Lib Dems.
So back to Labour then, what should they do? They are in favour of free movement of labour within the EU, so it seems to me they need to address the issues that people are currently blaming on immigration. Ed Miliband has actually tried to raise each of the five issues on my list above, and has grabbed a bit of attention each time. The problem has been, his proposed ‘solutions’ are so inconsequential, people sort of shrug on hearing them. So what? is the refrain. Miliband has proposed very timid proposals on job creation, energy prices and private sector rents, and has been likened to Mugabe, Stalin and Hugo Chavez by the Tory party and certain people in the media. If this is the reaction to very modest proposals, why not go the whole hog and actually come up with something that will really stir things up?
How about proposing something like:
1. Building 100,000 social houses a year for the next 5 years
2. Guarantee work for all who need a job, working in the third or public sectors (limited to those who’ve been in the UK for at least 5 years)
3. Large programme of school building
4. Moratorium on all tenders for provision of NHS services
5. Renationalise something – polls consistently show majorities in favour of nationalised water, energy, postal services and rail.
We should also not forget that while UKIP did well, 66% of people didn’t bother to vote! Why not? A large number obviously don’t see any value in voting. If we had a well-funded opposition party (and money is important) selling a genuine alternative, maybe more people would turn out on polling day. If it’s a choice between the blue Tories, the red Tories, the yellow Tories, or the Purple Tories, why would anyone bother? It seems pretty clear that socialism isn’t coming back. The name alone strikes fear into many, but ISTM there would be support for anyone proposing to ‘tame’ capitalism, keeping the good bits, but intervening strongly to eliminate the bad.