How UKIP Differs from the Tea Party

Americans who have heard of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) often assume that its members are roughly analogous to those of the U.S. Tea Party, i.e., disaffected conservatives who want the right-most party to move even further right. Some excellent political journalism has shown this is not correct, and a remarkable election result this past week underscores the point.

The setting was Heywood and Middleton, a Mancunian constituency in which Labour politicians have literally never lost a parliamentary election. I was acquainted with the late Jim Dobbin, who used to represent this pocket district, and he was with respect neither a scintillating orator nor entirely in step with many of his constituents on some social issues. But still, he was Labour, so like his predecessors he too always won, and by large margins.

Given this context, it is remarkable indeed that Jim’s Labour Party replacement almost lost the by-election to a UKIP candidate. In the 4 years since the last parliamentary election, UKIP increased its vote-share by a stunning 15-fold. If UKIP were truly just a party of disaffected Tories, this simply could not have happened in a Labour stronghold.

Ian Warren of Election Data blog did some revealing shoeleather reporting and data crunching regarding how UKIP did so well. He posted this photo of a UKIP voting neighborhood (that’s an “estate”, i.e., public housing) and pointed out that its not exactly the dwelling place of the horse and hound set.


Now take a moment to consider whether you think UKIP are just a problem for the Conservatives. Because this doesn’t look like a Conservative area to me. And consider that in May of this year UKIP took 42.3% of the vote here…..on these streets. Because at some stage somebody in Labour high command is going to need to explain to me how on earth they find themselves in a position where their bedrock supporters, the believers in ‘good old religion’ as I heard John McTernan call them last week, have simply stopped believing.

His whole analysis is worth reading. It reinforces my sense that the 2015 UK election is “everyone’s to lose”, by which I mean that, given the fracturing of old alliances and perspectives in the UK, there is an excellent chance that regardless of who wins, the majority of people who went to the polls are going to feel alienated from the new government from day one.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

6 thoughts on “How UKIP Differs from the Tea Party”

  1. For those of us not literate with UK place-name conventions, Mancunian is the adjective form describing Manchester and its environs. Thank goodness for Google!

  2. You do realise that Labour's percentage share of the vote was almost exactly the same as at the 2010 general election (40.1%)? As opposed to the Tories (12.3% from 27.2%), LD (5.1% from 22.7%), Others, excluding UKIP at the general – mostly BNP in the general, Greens last week (3% from 7.4%). Certainly the turnout was a lot lower, but that's standard in by-elections, and usually favours outsider parties, as in this case. I don't see how the numbers support your thesis.

    1. Jim was in an expenses scandal just before 2010 that damaged him, even though he won by a large margin. Look at this Wikipedia entry to see Labour's results (including Jim's) over the past 25 years, which tend to be around 50% to as high as over 57%. Meanwhile no party other than Labour has ever achieved the vote share UKIP just did.

  3. Keith,

    The reason why the base of the Labour Party has stopped believing is that, having tried to put as little space between themselves and the Tories as possible in an foolish effort to appeal to "moderates" or some such, they really have nothing to offer anybody and no real cause for complaint about how the Conservatives have governed. Having trimmed their sails as close to what they saw as the prevailing conservative wind, it's difficult to see how they could claim that things would have been better under Labour since they apparently they wouldn't do much differently. Not better for the future either since Labour promises more of the same Thatcherite neoliberalism. Really, I think they could only do worse—I wouldn't vote for them if I were English.

    The more difficult question for the people of the left and center-left is where to go given there's only a choice between hard right and Thatcherism. I haven't any good answer. As far as I can see, there are no good choices.

    1. Mitch,

      If you didn't see it, you might like Ian Martin's essay

      I also am not sure how we protect the interests of working people in a globalized economy (at least working people in developed countries, working people in China and India are clearly moving up). It isn't possible for one country or a group of countries to turn off globalization, leaving trade unionists with the problem that they are not really dealing with just their own bosses and government any more, but all governments. If a political party in a developed nation goes hard left like Hollande et al in France, they get French results in terms of economic stagnation, unemployment and capital/talent flight. I assume Milliband sees this reality and doesn't like it…but also accepts it because it's not clear what choice he has. That's why, as I explain here, I expect some change if Labour gets back in power, but nothing dramatic

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