At the last general election 4 out of 5 Somerset MPs were Lib Dem and not long before that the party controlled Somerset County Council. In 2010 the Lib Dems reneged on their promises about tuition fees, sold their principles to put the Tories in Government and last week came last in the Clifton North Council by-election being beaten by the ‘Bus Stop Elvis’ party. Bridgwater councillor Brian Smedley believes the Lib Dems are in freefall and Labour has to fill the gap before UKIP does.
In the 1980’s a disastrous combination of a divided Labour Party , the creation of the SDP and the the emergence of the ‘Ashdown factor’ saw anti-Tory voters switch to what became the Liberal Democrats. Ashdown’s basic argument was ‘Labour will never get in here so lend us your vote to keep the Tories out ‘. This was always a flimsy argument as the Lib Dems were long recognised as the Tory B team and had often campaigned viciously against Labour in many a dirty election campaign. In 2010 when they threw themselves at the feet of the Tories so they could be a part of a ConDem coalition, the pretence was over and their eager participation in their ‘austerity ‘ package of cuts saw voters and members deserting them in droves.
The Lib Dems have lost their deposit at by-elections on 10 occasions. All 4 Somerset LibDem MPs voted with the Government to cut back flood funding to the Environment Agency.
‘Far Right UKIP’ is no alternative
Around Somerset at the most recent election –last years County Council polls, the Lib Dem vote did collapse and much went to Labour but the main winners were the far right UKIP who picked up 3 seats -2 of which were former LibDem (Chard and Yeovil in Ashdown’s heartland). So many LibDem votes are going directly to UKIP that Clegg has been forced to take on Nigel Farage in a direct TV debate. Yet for both of these marginal parties –one without policies the other without principles, the argument will be facile and the voter group targeted largely knee jerk voters who are voting against what they perceive as a ‘political class’ as represented by the 2 mainstream parties – how else can a voter swing from pro European liberal integration to anti immigrant right wing class warrior in the flick of a vote.
Labour has to fill this ground with a principled stand based on clear democratic socialist policies that are obvious and understandable to everyone –job creation, a living wage, a free national health service, a non elitist education system, a programme of home building and properly funded public services.
Around Somerset at the next European Elections in May 2014 and at the General Election (which is on the same day as the District Elections) in 2015 the Lib Dem vote will drop –and probably dramatically and it’s likely the UKIP vote will rise. Probably UKIP will have a good Euro campaign – they currently have 2 out of the 6 South West Euro MEPs – never mind the fact nobody knows who they are-least of all the other Euro MEPs as they hardly ever turn up –yet still draw their expenses. However, UKIP are clearly a party of the far Right. Why working class people even think about voting for them is a key issue for Labour. Why people already being hit by Tory cuts think that voting for an ‘even more Tory’ Tory party would help them is a startling head shaking reality.
Labour needs to make a clear and principled stand
Labour needs to make a clear and principled stand on European integration, the progressive benefits of being part of a democratic socialist Europe , free movement of labour and equal access to markets for workers and capital alike, noting that as many UK workers benefit from the right to work anywhere in Europe as Europeans who come here to work and reminding people that immigration has seen a massive net gain for this country in terms of increased income through their taxes contributing to and bolstering our public services, creating work and enriching our communities.
Labour needs to lead the moral campaign against UKIP and offer people a real alternative. Do we really want our vote to give UKIP the licence to legalise handguns, take climate change off the school curriculum, bring back their own version of the poll tax and introduces even more savage cuts to the welfare state?
Do people even realise that when their vote results in the election of a UKIP MEP they’ll be adding to the ranks of the far right bloc in the EU parliament which positions itself well to the right of even the austerity loving European conservative bloc?
In May this year Labour will increase it’s vote and the Lib Dem vote will drop at the European elections but the result is wide open and the seats, through the PR system, are there for the taking. A Labour vote can reject the Tories, punish the Lib Dems and most importantly stop UKIP so by the time of the 2015 election UKIP will have peaked and Farage will, hopefully, keep one of his promises and that’s to resign if his party doesn’t get 25% of the seats in Parliament.