The boss of Britain’s biggest trade union has warned Ed Miliband of the “danger” posed to Labour’s core Northern vote by the rise of Ukip.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey likened the Ukip surge to the rise of the BNP and said Labour must “take it head-on” or risk haemorrhaging further support across the North.
Speaking at a lunch event in Westminster, the union boss said Labour will need to offer a “genuine” alternative to the Conservative Party’s promise of further austerity or face wipe-out at next year’s general election.
His intervention follows repeated claims from Ukip leader Nigel Farage that his protest party now represents the chief opposition to Labour in the North, having finished second in several by-elections since 2010, including in Rotherham and Barnsley.
Mr McCluskey said the anti-Europe party had successfully tapped into a sense of disenfranchisement among many Northern voters and that it was vital Labour reacts quickly.
“There is a danger,” he told The Yorkshire Post. “Although Ukip are a clear challenge to the Conservative Party, in working class Labour areas Ukip are gaining support. What Labour have to do is fill the vacuum.
“The reason why Ukip are gaining at the moment is an awful lot of people feel all the political parties are the same; nobody really represents them, nobody is really dealing with their concerns on Europe or on immigration.
“Along come Ukip and they think yes, these (people) are speaking our language. Labour has to challenge Ukip, has to challenge their myths on immigration, deal with it on the doorstep.”
Mr McCluskey said Labour must respond as it did to the rise of the BNP in east London – with a concerted grassroots campaign. He also called on Labour to “start building homes” and promote “better collective bargaining” to dispel fears that immigrant workers are able to access scarce social housing and drive down wages.
“Labour has to take it head-on, because Ukip is a threat,” he said.
Mr McCluskey painted a picture of widespread disconnect between voters and the political classes, whom he said were not interested in ‘Wakefield woman’ or “the bloke on the bus’.
“I represent people feeling increasingly shut out,” he said. “Shut out of Parliament, shut out of policy debate, ignored or taken for granted. Marginalised by a political culture that talks about ‘Worcester woman’ or Mondeo Man’.”
Mr McCluskey predicted that Labour will lose the May 2015 poll if all it has to promise voters is a “pale shade of (the) austerity” on offer from Conservatives.
He said defeat in 2015 could prompt Unite – which has donated more than £11m to Labour since Mr Miliband became leader – to consider disaffiliating from Labour and switching support to other parties. Mr McCluskey said Labour stood at a “crossroads” and called on the party to unveil a radical election manifesto.
He said: “I am confident that what will emerge is a platform to take to the British electorate. I hope that it will be an alternative. If it is a pale shade of austerity, then I believe Labour will be defeated at the next election.
“I believe the British electorate are of a mind, unless there is a real alternative, to say we had better stick with the devil we know.
“Ed’s challenge – and I hope he will pick this up sooner rather than later – is to simply demonstrate he is on the side of ordinary people.
“Miliband has got to give hope to people. He has got to demonstrate that we are going to do something different in power.”
Bernard Ingham: Page 15.