LABOUR must fight the public “disengagement” with politics which has fuelled the rise of Ukip, Ed Miliband has said as he prepares to push through sweeping internal party reforms.
The Labour leader warned yesterday that politics is “a game that’s being played with fewer and fewer spectators” as he sought to rally grassroots members behind his attempts to make the party more open to the wider public.
Mr Miliband was in Leeds to address a public meeting of Yorkshire and Humber Labour members, where he made the case for the large-scale changes to party rules which he hopes to secure at a special national conference next weekend. The Doncaster MP said party reform is one of the best ways to combat the anti-politics sentiment which he believes has given a powerful boost to Ukip.
But speaking to the Yorkshire Post, he insisted that Labour will not waver in the face of Ukip’s claims that it can pick up as many votes from disaffected Labour voters as from the Tories at the forthcoming local and Euro elections.
Mr Miliband pointed to his party’s success in the recent by-election in south Manchester – where Ukip came a distant second – as proof his strategy is working.
“We did well in Wythenshawe and Sale East,” he said. “We heard confident predictions (from Ukip) before the by-election.
“(But) the philosophy we took into the by-election was: let’s worry about ourselves. Let’s set out our own stall on every issue – immigration, cost of living, the NHS – and let others worry about themselves. And that’s the approach we’re going to take in the local and European elections. I believe we’ve got a good message, people know that we’re the people who are going to make a difference on the bread-and-butter issues that matter to them.”
Local council and European Parliamentary elections will be held across the country in three months’ time, with some Labour councillors in the party’s traditional South and West Yorkshire heartlands privately concerned about the threat from Ukip.
Last month Wentworth and Dearne MP John Healey, a former Labour Minister, warned that Ukip is “making the case” to Labour’s core voters across the North.
“Ukip could be seen as the big winner of the local elections – and then we could see a sudden loss of confidence in Labour about Ukip, squeezing our vote in many of the critical marginal constituencies,” Mr Healey warned. “Ukip is drawing on those people not bored, but angered by politics.
“Ukip’s strategy is not just appealing to people from the right of the Tories; they are making the case to traditional Labour voters.
“Step one for Labour is to take the threat seriously.”
Mr Miliband, however, insisted yesterday that he would “absolutely not” be changing his message to counter the Ukip threat. But he accepted his party must do more to engage the public.
“There’s a wider issue about people’s sense of disengagement from politics,” the Labour leader admitted. “The best way for Labour to counter that is to show the difference we will make.
“If we show the people we will make to people’s lives on housing, on jobs, on the bedroom tax, people will come to us. That’s what we did in the by-election – we ran a campaign about the NHS, about the cost of living, and we did well.”
Mr Miliband said he was getting “good support” for his plans to reform Labour’s internal structures, and denied the party was at risk of talking to itself rather than the voters in the run-up to the local elections.
“No, because I think if you look at the last six months or so we’ve been talking about energy price freeze, bedroom tax, minimum wage, childcare – bread-and-butter issues facing people,” he said.
“But we’ve got to open up our party and open up our politics. People really are fed up with ‘politics as usual’.”
Battle of insults in need of reform: Page 17.