An upcoming by-election illustrates how worried the Labour party should be.
The clearest sign of this realisation was shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander’s speech yesterday on the final day of the party conference, saying UKIP does “pose a risk.” Reminiscing about the rise of the SNP during the 1980’s, Alexander recognised the potential of UKIP doing the same in Scotland and stealing Labour voters.
MP Michael Dugher also reinforced this view, and recognised that Labour “have not talked” about immigration, which could be a large contributing factor in traditional Labour voters defecting to UKIP. However, Dugher went on to attack UKIP as being “more Tory than the Tories”, slating their policies. An example used was the UKIP tax cut to millionaires.
So, just how much of a threat is UKIP to Labour? The upcoming by election in Heywood and Middleton will be one of the best indicators, and despite the seat having a 6,000 Labour majority, there is real concern amongst Labour members that UKIP will be able to persuade disaffected voters to switch their allegiance. Worries about immigration are real problems in areas such as Heywood, and Farage’s strong rhetoric on tackling the issue puts UKIP in a good position. Additionally, the constituency is part of Rochdale, meaning in all likelihood UKIP will use the child sexual exploitation scandal that took place in this Labour area, as fuel in their campaign. On the same day as the Clacton by-election that UKIP are predicted to win, Labour must be realising there is not only a substantial threat to the Conservatives from UKIP, but also to them.
UKIP has targeted several other key seats in the North, the majority of which are in traditional Labour areas that have always voted Labour. Farage has used the examples of Great Grimsby and Rotherham, describing their chances as “huge” due to a “gap in the market.”
UKIP’s conference is taking place in Miliband’s seat of Doncaster; yet another direct challenge to a party that, one might argue, has woken up to what has been staring them in the face for months, too late. The threat to Labour then is clear, but can they seize what has always been their monopoly in the market back from the outsiders rapidly moving in?