Diane Abbott recently repeated her assertion that “Labour can’t out-UKIP UKIP”, something she has said on numerous occasions since UKIP’s rise to prominence.
No one suggested it…
It’s a strange expression because no one has suggested that Labour “out-UKIP UKIP”. Labour moderates merely suggest that Labour should pledge to reduce the scale of immigration. This is a natural response to widespread concern over immigration. As many as 77% of the public would like to see immigration reduced from its record-high levels. It is the number one concern among the general public.
In this context, it is hardly surprising that Labour is struggling in the polls. When the party and the public move in opposite directions from one another, Labour will inevitably face declining levels of support.
Recent polling shows that the Conservatives have a commanding lead over Labour of 14 percentage points. While 42% of the public say they would vote Conservative, only 28% would vote Labour.
Many traditional Labour supporters abandoned the party to vote UKIP in the 2015 General Election, and many more voted Leave in the 2016 EU referendum. It is now widely accepted that Labour’s open borders stance on immigration has been a major reason for the party’s declining vote share and influence.
In the face of all the evidence, Abbott insists that there would be electoral gain to be had by adapting Labour’s immigration policy to the wishes of the public:
We can’t fight and win an election in 2020 as Ukip-lite. The idea that moving right on immigration in post-industrial Britain will save us seats is I think misconceived.
It is notable that Abbott gave no evidence or justification for her thinking. In that respect, her intervention is closer to a sermon than to a sober analysis of the political landscape. We must accept her words on faith.
When the public already has doubts about Corbyn’s ability to lead, Labour cannot afford to be at odds with it on the number one question of the day.
If Corbyn and Abbott maintain their support for mass immigration, Labour will have no chance of winning. It will become the party of principled failure.
Post Brexit, Labour’s choice appears to be simple: compromise with the electorate or lose the next General Election.