This year the English District Council elections will take place on May 7th, the same day as the General Election. I shall stand as Labour Candidate in my home area of Glaven Valley. I will lose by an overwhelming, possibly humiliating, margin; it is a rural district dominated by wealthy farmers and retired professionals who unite to form a reactionary electorate.
However our hope in the Labour Party is that a higher poll in the local elections –as more people go to the polling station to vote in a general election – will lead to the election of some Councillors elsewhere in the District. I certainly hope so. The current crop of North Norfolk Councillors are an unimpressive lot and we are fielding some able Labour candidates in our most winnable seats. We will always be in a minority but it would be nice to be in a position where we could at least offer some opposition. Currently we hold no seats.
The unknown in the election will be the UKIP vote. The East of England has been rightly identified as one of the regions that will offer the best prospect for UKIP and they did well in the 2013 County Council elections, securing 14 seats. One of the 14 elected felt obliged to resign almost immediately under the most bizarre circumstances. It transpired that he had earlier been detained by the police for shoplifting and was given a caution. However the shop where he committed the offence was ‘Poundland’, the store that boasts that all its products retail for £1. For most people the more likely offence would be to dump items in the store rather than stealing them. UKIP, like all new movements, are attracting some very odd people.
So what makes people in Norfolk vote UKIP? Unlike many of the other parts where UKIP has made inroads, for example the West Midlands, Norfolk has no areas where there is a concentration of people from a different ethnic background. Moreover our local economy depends heavily on immigrant labour. Foreign labour is needed to lift the crops on the vegetable farms and to keep the care homes and the hospitals running.
While there is no logic in the UKIP vote, it does appeal to a certain sort of prejudice. This is a vague belief that much of the country’s economic woes are caused by foreigners and, in particular, by the rules of the European Community. When this is mixed with a dash of racial prejudice this produces an attractive alternative for the alienated voter.
No-one should underestimate the extent of crude racism. I well recollect an early experience of a social event in my small Norfolk village. Apropos of nothing one of the locals, a retired businessman, informed me proudly ‘Well I’m a racist’. My response was to tell him that I had members of my own family were of Asian ethnicity. The gentleman concerned responded by looking a bit embarrassed and shuffling his feet. The message surely is to confront such behaviour.
The economic argument is more difficult and requires more thought. My view is that we on the left must recognise the realties, and inevitability, of the global economy and be prepared to articulate the consequences. We must state unequivocally that we stand against the exploitation of the weak by the strong wherever it takes place in the world. This can only be achieved through international co-operation and action and continued membership of the European Community, whatever its defects, is essential. This would seem to offer the best prospect of sustaining the Labour vote against attacks by the Greens and the Scottish National Party – both of which are very ambiguous in their internationalism. Sadly the Labour Party’s platform locally at the 2014 European Elections was very disappointing in this repect and will have been a factor in the poor result.
So what it is need is a combination of political courage and well-structured argument. We must have no truck with UKIP and reject the anti-foreign sentiment. The future for Labour is as a Party with an international outlook and an international agenda. It still wouldn’t make much difference to my prospects in Glaven Valley but I’d feel much happier in my defeat.