I was engaged in a discussion on social media this past week with someone who was passionately pro-Corbyn. When we got into voting for Labour as a topic, he told me he’d never voted for Labour before. In fact, at the last election he voted UKIP. I probed him further on this and he said that Corbyn reminded him of what he liked about Farage: here was a guy that spoke that all important thing in modern politics, the vaunted “truth”.
To start with, I know I’m not Jeremy’s greatest fan, but at the same time I want to stress that I do not think he and Farage are photocopies of one another. In most respects, even I will acknowledge they are complete opposites. But I’m not the only one to notice that UKIPers seems to kind of like Corbyn more than a little and this does make me wonder if a reasonable number of UKIP supporters would be lured either back to or into for the first time, the Labour fold by Corbyn’s leadership. The answer to this is more pressing than you might think: UKIP could be hot on Labour’s heels in 2020 in many northern seats, so having a leader that can attract those UKIP-Labour leaners (and we know now that they exist) would be handy.
What I like about the fact that a lot of UKIPers think highly of Corbyn is it at the very least sheds light on the fact that the UKIP phenomenon is not a left-right thing, in the traditional sense anyhow. In other words, people who may have been attracted to UKIP at different times might still buy into Jeremy’s nationalisation thing without any contradiction being present. Because it wasn’t the flat tax stuff that made them warm to UKIP anyway.
I recall an event at Labour conference I organised a few years back on what Labour’s position on an EU referendum should be. I purposefully stacked the deck to make it as adversarial as possible and oh my, was it ever. I bring it up because at one point, a young man in a leather jacket said that in order to make Britain a socialist country, we needed to be out of the EU. So because Labour was a pro-EU party, he was going to vote UKIP instead. A few of the pro-European MPs went totally mental on him, saying he was mad to vote UKIP if he wanted socialism. But the young man remained unconvinced.
It has not been remarked enough upon just how many people who voted Lib Dem in 2010 went on to vote UKIP in 2015. We don’t have an exact figure, but I’m convinced it was reasonably high. I bring this up to demonstrate that UKIPers tend to be attracted to parties and leaders that have a whiff of outsider to them, and perhaps this is what they like about Corbyn. Whether this is good for Labour, to be seen by UKIP converters as unelectable and thus get their votes on that basis, is arguable to put it mildly.
So whether Corbyn can pull in the UKIP voters from 2015 remains to be seen. Short term, they could be drawn in. Longer term, Corbyn might have problems keeping them on the line. He’s bound to get tied in knots over Europe, but I think he could get round that. His big problem is going to be his outlook on immigration, which let’s face it, is none too UKIPy. It will be fun while it lasts, however.