It turns out, to quote Nigel Farage, it is not just retired colonels who live near Salisbury Plain that back Ukip.The recent European election saw the party win votes in traditional Labour areas, including Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales.
Matthew Goodwin and Robert Ford, the academics who know more about Ukip’s support than even the party’s high command, have produced a list of the most Ukip-friendly constituencies in the country.Of the top 20, 17 are Labour-held seats.
So Labour knows it has to fight back – but how?Playing the man not the ball isn’t going to work. As wonderful as it was to hear Shadow Cabinet Minister Michael Dugher label Farage a “phoney bullshit artist” in an interview with me in May, that kind of attack plays into Ukip’s ‘The Westminster elite are scared of us’ strategy.
At numerous fringe meetings on how to tackle Ukip at the Labour conference last week, activists pleaded for a message from the leadership to deliver on the doorstep to dissuade voters defecting to Ukip.The party only now seems to be coming up with one. The “More Tory than the Tories” line, complete with the photo of Farage drinking from a Thatcher mug, will play well in northern seats.
But for those in the south, especially in costal, “end of the line” constituencies, it is the immigration issue which needs to be tackled.
Labour candidate in Thurrock, Polly Billington, told a fringe meeting at the party conference as much last week. The Tories won the seat by just 92 votes in 2010, and in “normal” circumstances it should be an easy win for Labour next year.But privately, Labour are worried the party won’t be able to overturn the 0.2 per cent majority.
That is because the seat is being worked incredibly hard by Ukip’s Tim Aker, a 29-year-old local man, who is playing up the party’s message on immigration and his personal connection to the seat.And Labour's immigration message - like the Tories - doesn't stand up to scrutiny: "We will reduce immigration, except we can't as we don't control our borders and can't actually stop millions of Europeans coming here so oops!"
So Labour find themselves in the same position as the Tories. Trying to control something without committing to doing the one thing which would give them control - rejecting the EU's freedom of movement law.
At Ukip’s conference in Doncaster last week, Farage told delegates the party was “putting its tanks on Labour’s lawn.”Labour have finally looked out of the window, but are struggling to find the right weapons to blow up the tanks.