The North of England is not only the home of former mines closed in the last century, but the region as a whole is a mine of voters crucial to UKIP’s success in the future.
Last week, UKIP elected their new leader, Diane James. Her victory should act as a stark reminder to May that the party’s job is not completed. Many Kippers are impatient.
What they see is a Conservative Government dithering over triggering Article 50 and an unclear vision of what Brexit is going to mean to us all. This means they still have a purpose as long as we remain in the EU prior to negotiations to leave it.
Though James does not regard herself as ‘Nigel-lite’, she has promised to maintain Farage’s legacy of challenging the political establishment and acting as a change movement. After all, this is the party that believes the vote on June 23rd was entirely down to them. UKIP has established a sense of self-confidence not witnessed in the party for a considerable period of time, and their new leader will capitalise on this.
However, the best way forward for the anti-EU party is to play on Labour’s problems in the North of England. This part of the country presents their best hope of maximising on the gains they achieved in the 2015 General Election.
A report released by Survation after last year’s election explored the impact that they had on the main political parties. Many Tories feared that a rise in the UKIP vote would inflict significant damage upon their electoral gains. This was due to a fear of the latter splitting the vote in key seats the Tories needed to win. Instead, what happened in the North was that UKIP cost Labour many seats and helped contribute towards Conservative gains.
Bolton West was a seat gained by the Tories by 801 votes over Labour. The amount of UKIP votes in this seat was 7428. Morley and Outwood, Ed Balls’ former seat, was lost to the Conservatives, too, due to UKIP managing to win 7951 votes.
UKIP’s gains in the North undoubtedly helped contribute towards Vote Leave’s victory this year. In Bury, 54% of people voted to leave the EU. Vote Leave gained a 58% share of the vote in St. Helens. In Burnley, 66.6% of voters decided to exit the EU, too. If the Labour Party struggle to understand why swathes of their traditional voters failed to support their pro-European stance, it will become increasingly likely that they will turn to a party that does. Lest we forget what happened in Scotland last year.
Yet it appears Labour still struggle to understand the impact of the vote. Corbyn has been a determined Eurosceptic throughout his entire political career that spans 43 years. It seems likely he will win the leadership election, though this year proves anything is possible. He also seems to be more accepting of the result compared to his loony opponent, Owen Smith, who not that long ago promised to take Britain into the Schengen area and the Euro.
But both candidates for the Labour leadership still struggle to understand that immigration was a significant factor that contributed towards UKIP’s share of the vote increasing in the North last year. They fail to comprehend that it helped ensure a high turnout of northern voters rejected the EU in June. None of them are producing any noises to address their traditional voters’ anxieties over freedom of movement.
If Corbyn does win, it seems likely that his party will split in the same fashion it did during 1981. If this traditional centre-left party cannot present themselves as a democratic alternative to May’s Conservative Party, it seems likely that in a post-Brexit world, they could just turn to UKIP. Now here is a party that is determined to deliver a hard Brexit.
There is still the possibility that the Government may deliver Brexit, literally. But this could result in UKIP becoming a voice of opposition to European legislation that has been imposed upon us for many years instead. But it could mean they may find that they will evolve into a party of protest and capitalise upon a divided Labour Party that struggles to acknowledge their core voters’ key concern; immigration.
Either way, the party is not yet over for UKIP. The North of England is a gold mine of potential voters who are angry and searching for an alternative to a centre-left party they once pledged their loyalty to. Regardless of the outcome of our negotiations with the EU, if Labour do not learn their lessons, a smaller party may just take advantage of that and deliver another political thunderstorm.