Opinion: UKIP fails to win in London because it fails to understand its communities

nigel farageIn this week’s New Statesman, when confronted with the fact that most in London do not share his “uneasy” feelings towards immigrants speaking in their mother tongue, Nigel Farage launches another attack on the capital’s so-called “commentariat” who are “caught in the whirlpool of London thinking”. It’s his typical accusatory anti-liberal, anti-elitist, anti-London rhetoric, and so you’d think it would register just as a minor tremor on the UKIP-irritation seismometer. But it wasn’t. This was a good 7, at least, on the personal Richter Scale.

It’s simply because I find his premise aggravating. In suggesting that the more liberal, more progressive views of Londoners stem from being generally “better off” than the rest of the country, he’s not just being offensive, but plain ignorant too. 28% of Londoners are deemed to live in poverty, which is 7% higher than the rest of the country. Yes, it does have the highest proportion of people on high incomes in the country, but it also has the highest national proportion of people on low incomes. And the fact that Farage’s “middle-class progressives” (the Liberal Democrats and, according to Farage, the Tories too) hold less than half of all the council seats in London (853 of 1,803) and less than Labour alone proves that “working-class progressives” still dominate at least half of the capital.

In the same article, not only does he paint all Londoners with the same economic brush, but he almost suggests that cuts to essential services are something they aren’t experiencing, especially when compared with small English towns (his example of Boston, a seaside constituency UKIP are tipped to pick up next year, is clearly not one he spontaneously picked off the top of his head). I live in Enfield, London’s northernmost borough. Our local hospital’s A&E shut last December. Little more than a month later, the hospital made national news when a two year old boy tragically passed away after his mother rushed him unknowingly to the now-closed A&E. The story of Chase Farm Hospital, of years of officials misleading locals, of public protest and “efficiency cuts” surely resonates with communities across Britain.

But that’s the point. Sure, London’s poorer communities differ in the nature of their challenges and their ethnic makeup, but many of them are experiencing the same let-downs from councils and government that have supposedly pushed rural and northern Britons to UKIP. The difference is that UKIP’s quasi-nationalism and triumphant chauvinism just comes across as totally irrelevant to communities that have to deal with some of the most complex social issues in the country. The kind of communities that know UKIP’s stances on the real issues will just exacerbate already worsening situations. How can a party of neoliberal Thatcherites address income inequality? How can a Libertarian movement engage people with government if they want to shrink its size?  How can a party opposed to devolution fix our broken constitution? And looking to the future, how can climate-change deniers mitigate the greatest existential threat we face?

For Londoners, the answer is simple. They can’t.

* Guy Russo was the Parliamentary Candidate in Enfield North at the General Election and is an Ex-President of the Queen Mary University of London Liberal Democrats.

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  • Malcolm Todd 17th Nov '14 - 9:45am

    Good article. One particular, interesting point: “28% of Londoners are deemed to live in poverty, which is 7% higher than the rest of the country.” Could you give us a source for that? Thanks.

  • Malcolm, sure thing. My source was the following site http://www.londonspovertyprofile.org.uk/key-facts/
    The site is a co-operation betwen the Trust For London and the New Policy Institute. The data is correct as of their last review, October 2013.
    Thank you for pointing this out, I should have referenced the source in the article.
    Have a nice day.

  • Let’s be honest. UKIP mostly appeals to white people with conservative attitudes towards the EU and immigration. They are hardly likely to score big in Tower Hamlets or for that matter in inner city Leicester. It turns out that once you remove fascism and overt racism from the mix there are rather a lot people with conservative attitudes towards the EU and immigration who will vote for a party that represents their views. It really is that simple.

  • Ukip didn’t actually do too badly in outer London in the European elections did they? When you consider how many people in London are immigrants themselves – who it’s fair to say are suspicious of Ukip, plus a relatively large affluent middle class, it clearly isn’t prime Ukip territory. But the white working class? I’m not sure they’re so anti-Ukip. Certain parts of London were amongst the most receptive to the BNP.

  • Sorry, I should add that there was a very good article by Andrew Rawnsley on immigration in The Observer.


    Suggests only about 1/4 of voters are truly hostile. 1/4 probably agree with Nick. The other 50% are concerned but persuadable. I wory that here are too many Liberal Democrats who pride themselves on being in the minority, sometimes sanctimoniously and would rather appeal to a niche. One reason I’ve become disillusioned with the party.

  • Don’t under estimate UKIP. Before the euro elections LibDems were portraying them all as “White English Middleaged Males”, strange that they polled better than the LibDems in both Scotland and Wales and if I remember right about 40% of their vote was female.

  • UKIP did well in Eyuropean elections because our party gave them free publicity by agreeing to fight the campaign on Farage’s territory, i.e on the UK in/out question, a question which is NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with European elections because MEPs do not decide that. We should instead have insisted on campaigning on European issues, by which I mean issues over which MEPs DO have influence and refused to engage with Farage on a question over which MEPs have no influence.

  • Geoffrey Payne 17th Nov '14 - 1:22pm

    Generally it is true that UKIP struggle in London although they do have pockets of support in the Hornchurch and Epping Forest area.
    I would say that the main reason London rejects UKIP is because it has become comfortable with being a multicultural city. People who do not like it have moved out. Ethnic minorities are not going to vote UKIP in any big numbers here either.
    I do not think there is much UKIP can do about London, it will focus elsewhere.

  • The question is whether UKIP actually needs to “win in London” to achieve its objectives. As has been said elsewhere London isn’t England (just as Paris isn’t France and Tokyo isn’t Japan etc.) and a majority government could be formed that contained no MP’s representing London constituencies…

  • Interesting article by Guy Russo. It is always good to remind people that contrary to what the BBC and other media would have us believe there is not an all conquering electoral force called UKIP. For a party that has existed for over twenty years and is bank-rolled by some of the fattest cheque-books in UK politics, UKIP has failed to make much real impression on more than about 15% of voters even at its peak.

    In May 2014, in both inner and outer London, UKIP did less than well than elsewhere in the country and less well than the media pretend.

    I agree very much with Geoffrey Payne when he says –“…..London rejects UKIP … because it has become comfortable with being a multicultural city”
    In my experIence a huge number of people who Iive in and/or work in London come from somewhere else. Maybe it is the majority of people. We are all either immigrants, or the chlldren or grandchildren of immigrants, or someone in our family is married to an immigrant.
    We feel more at home with other immigrant Londoners than we do with Mr Farage and his myth of a right-wing, white, xenophobic England from before the days of Downton Abbey.
    I live in a comfortable middle class suburb on the edge of London but the nearest place of worship to my house is the mosque. The biggest religious group in my daughter’s class at school was Hindu. The children in the local RC primary school have parents and grandparents from virtually every corner of the globe. Some of the most successful local churches are Korean. We have had a Greek Orthodox community for as long as I can remember. The man who delivers my organic vegetable box every week is a Rastafarian with dreadlocks tucked into an amazing knitted hat — he speaks with a South London accent much more authentic than mine. The local chip shop is run by a Chinese family, they bought it from a Greek family. The local GP’s surgery has doctors and nurses from all over the world. A major local employer a few hundred yards from my front door is a call centre which the owners decided to have in Kingston because of the number of people who could speak a variety of languages that live within easy commuting distance – hence the call centre deals with business from all over the world. I can eat food from at least fifteen different countries of the world by walking to a restaurant within 15 minutes of my house.
    What have any of us immigrant Londoners got in common with UKIP and their far right world view? Why would any of us want to travel back in time generations to the sort of mean and boring England that Farage would have us live in ?

  • David Faggiani 17th Nov '14 - 4:30pm

    ….and the Lib Dems currently have 2 out of 25 London Assembly Members.

    We aren’t exactly hitting a home run either 🙂

  • John Tilley – I take your point, however it has to be said that concerns about immigration go far beyond people intending to vote Ukip. I would also say that whilst living in London, change is something that is seen by most people as normal, indeed many people themselves in certain parts of London haven’t necessarily lived in the same location for very long. However I do think there is understandable concern about communities changing too quickly, particularly as people get older. I’m one of those young urban types but when an elderly relative of mine was very ill and in and out of hospital they made a point of telling me how ‘everyone’ in her village (really suburb) had been asking after her. When it came to looking for a care home for her, she was very reluctant to move anywhere else because she felt she was so well known in her own area. I think people value continuity as they get older and that needs to be understood. Of course, that said, many people unhappy with immigration are concerned because it is happening somewhere else. This is backed by a commercial media that feels that scaremongering is the best way to survive in the modern media world.

    You also haven’t addressed any economic concerns or the demand on public services. Arguing simply about the cultural aspects of immigration won’t get very far.

  • Hi Guy, I am at the other end of the age scale ie 61 and I enjoyed your article. My thought about the poverty in London not attracting the UKIP vote may have something to do with the exceptional facilities available in the capital. Museums quality if not quantity of public transport, cheaper flights if you can afford a holiday, massive stocked shopping areas, incredible levels of investment per head even if not equally distributed.

    I feel that areas not close to London see huge investment that for many are simply inaccessible due to distance, acomadmadation costs even Olympic grounds and someone sells a garage space for more than our homes are worth then complain asset rich cash poor inyet a London property owner can sell up but a house in the north and have a huge amount of money left as a pension.

    Sp 28% poor 72% not doing so bad and a lot of options as age takes them. Imagine watching a program like location, location owner buys two properties and has change doubt they will vote UKIP

  • @Allan
    Good point about the exorbitant cost of London property. Many people also vote UKIP because they feel the cost of travel has put their capital almost beyond reach. When they arrive for a night out in a city-state they find culturally alien they are then forced to sit in the ‘Gods’ out of sight of oligarchs and bankers who can afford a play or concert costing upwards of £100.
    This feeling of exclusion in the face of foreign opulence acts as a recruiting sergeant for UKIP yet is an aspect of immigration that is hardly ever mentioned.

  • I should have written “£ 100 per seat.”

  • Farage worked in London and understands his City friends well and has their interests at heart.

  • There is nothing unique about London. Most inner cities and quite a few small towns have diverse populations. The Midlands probably more so. But the thing most people live outside of cities and elections are a numbers game.

  • Malcolm Todd 18th Nov '14 - 8:59am

    Frank Booth
    “You also haven’t addressed any economic concerns or the demand on public services. Arguing simply about the cultural aspects of immigration won’t get very far.”

    That’s a fair point as far as it goes. But only the other day Iain Duncan Smith was complaining about a “silly” report on immigration which only looked at economic value and didn’t consider the cultural aspects… It’s a big and complex issue and any one article or report is pretty inevitably not going to cover everything of relevance. Please don’t blame this author for dealing specifically with the aspect that others have just been criticized for overlooking!

  • Matthew Green is right to highlight that  “..There is a lot of genuine resentment about Britain’s political class – and not just the so-called Westminster elite, ”

    The Liberal Democrats have switched from being a community based party on the left working with ordinary people on the concerns of ordinary people.   The leadership has presented us as being a party of the Soft Tories.
    Our leadership abandoned ordinary people and their concerns and replaced them with the multiple delusions of the Orange Gang.

     The leadership is now endorsing an economic stance which is Conservative with a capital ‘C’ and as the research published this week shows it is not a stance which helps the poor and the alienated —

  • SIMON BANKS 18th Nov '14 - 1:52pm

    Immigration puts pressure on public services, yes, particularly education, but many public services, especially in the NHS, would collapse without it. The great majority of immigrants are young working-age people who want to work. Try telling that to anti-immigration voters. They won’t listen. Only in maybe half-a-dozen constituencies are anti-immigrant attitudes rational. Elsewhere, it’s plain malice, hatred and fear, plus of course that immigrants are a proxy for everything people dislike and fear about the modern world.

    There are indeed working-class UKIP voters, but mostly in places outside the big immigrant concentrations and often these people either fear their area becoming like Walthamstow or Ealing, or they’ve actually moved so as not to be in such places. They are in any case outnumbered by the UKIP supporters who are comfortably-off and loathe “benefits cheats”, “do-gooders” and foreigners.

    Yes, indeed, there’s a lot of them. Doesn’t make them right.

  • Hi Guy, I originate from Enfield as well 🙂 agree with your Chase Farm comments.
    Send me an e-mail [email protected]

  • Simon Banks,
    Most people are tribal. Go anywhere in the world and you will find this. It’s how customs, religions and communities are formed. I think this is the crux of why mas immigration is never popular. Instead of getting absorbtion, you get lots of little breakaway tribes that form into separate communities. Even liberal educated people form little knots where reading the wrong newspaper, saying the wrong thing or not having the right taste is viewed as troubling. or even as hostile. This is why a lot of left leaning people think education is the key to social progression and exclude any evidence to the contrary despite the fact that there are, always have been and always will be educated people with illiberal views. I don’t like UKIP and wouldn’t vote for them if I was paid to vote for them, but to me they are a mild form of what happens when politics ceases to take into account the views and living standards of voters. It’s actually irrelevant whether or not hostility to mass immigration is illogical because illogical people have the same right to vote as logical people. Plus this kind of thing always follows economic collapse especially if the political consensus is that the people in the valley need to tighten their belts so the folk on the hill don’t have too.

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