Labour councillors tell Corbyn to get tough on immigration / Brexit
A Financial Times survey of Labour councillors in some of its traditional heartland areas reveals demands from the party’s grassroots for Jeremy Corbyn to take a tougher line on “hard Brexit” and immigration controls.
Labour is increasingly divided between young liberals in inner London and other major cities, who typically supported the EU and favour Corbyn’s policy of unrestricted immigration, versus more socially conservative but traditionally pro-Labour voters in outer London and old industrial areas of the North and Midlands.
Peter Chand, a Labour councillor in River ward, Dagenham, said “the feeling on the doorstep is mainly about migration”, and suggested that his party should not insist on free movement when most voters had rejected this by voting for Brexit. Cllr Chand (who seems to be of Asian origin himself) says that the party should ease voters’ concerns by supporting “some kind of cap” on immigration.
Another Dagenham Labour councillor, Lee Waker of Village ward (where the BNP won a seat in 2006), told the FT that he favoured “hard Brexit” because for his voters “the quicker the EU is gone the better”.
Some of the councillors surveyed believed that UKIP remained a serious electoral threat in traditionally Labour-voting areas, while others felt that the Conservative Party remained a more realistic challenger in most of the country.
As it happens, most of the local elections in 2017 will be in Tory-dominated county councils. There are no scheduled elections in London, and most of the Labour-dominated metropolitan boroughs have no council elections, though new “super-mayors” will be elected in seven regions. If UKIP’s new leader Paul Nuttall is serious about challenging Labour in their traditional heartlands, his party will be concentrating on these – especially the new Tees Valley region which includes Hartlepool, one of his party’s growth area.
However local by-elections during 2016 (regularly analysed in each issue of H&D) have shown UKIP failing to make a serious impact in White working class areas that ought to have great potential. One recent example was Higher Croft ward, Blackburn with Darwen. At a by-election on December 15th, UKIP finished runners-up with 25% – at first sight a good result. Yet this is a ward where the BNP polled almost 30% at their peak a decade ago. If UKIP (post-referendum and post-Trump) is going to win Labour seats in northern England, it should certainly be winning Higher Croft (or at least coming a lot closer).
UKIP has just over four months to get its act together: failure in 2017 would surely mean the party’s over.