MIDDLETON, England – The Labour party is fighting an uphill battle to hold on to supporters in northern areas where it hasn't faced a credible challenge in years, even if the party isn't yet ready to admit that many of them are defecting to UKIP.
Toby Perkins took on the role of Labour's campaign organiser for the Heywood and Middleton by-election, which was triggered by the death of the incumbent, Jim Dobbin, who had been the Labour MP in the area for 17 years. Perkins told BuzzFeed News: "We've not seen a great deal of slippage from Labour votes. UKIP's support is broad and shallow, so it takes supporters from right across the spectrum.
"In areas like this, it's predominantly from people who voted Tory."
All opinion polls so far have pointed to a comfortable victory for the party. But Perkins, the MP for Chesterfield, admitted there was a real danger that UKIP might win in the by-election, especially as only a small number of votes could swing the majority during a low turnout, typical of by-elections. Despite that, he said: "I don't think we've sensed a surge from UKIP over the course of the campaign."
Labour's share of the vote could actually increase in the constituency, buoyed by defecting Lib Dems. But this is a strong Labour area, where UKIP would not have been expected to take votes from the party even a few years ago. A strong second-place finish would leave them as the official local opposition.
That trend has already begun. In the council elections only earlier this year, UKIP won 31% of the vote. If Labour sees movement to UKIP, it could provide an instant challenge to Ed Miliband who, following the elections in May, said he would win back UKIP voters before the general elections.
Arguably, UKIP's rise has given many who were wary of the party's likelihood of success more impetus to vote for it. And regardless of what Labour's official message is, on the ground, it really is losing support from its voters.
This man has voted Labour all his life and voted for UKIP today.
Cal Snape has also voted Labour all his life and voted for UKIP.
Marie Whittall is in the same situation.
And Michael Burke, brother of Labour councillor Karen Danczuk and brother-in-law to Labour MP Simon Danczuk, is also voting for UKIP for the first time.
The above were just a selection of UKIP voters who agreed to be pictured.
BuzzFeed News found many more who had decided to leave the Labour Party and of all new UKIP voters, all but one had previously Labour (the other was previously a Lib Dem voter).
While only 18 months ago UKIP taking voted from Labour may have been seen as an oddity, it should now be taken as a serious fact.
Amongst all the voters, the major concern was of immigration. Burke, 36, said he's not yet sure whether his sister Karen, famed for taking selfies, is aware that he's voting UKIP.
He said, "My town has changed a lot because of immigration. It was getting out of control for a while, the economy was unbelievable and people were losing their jobs left, right and centre. Labour was never that clever and they're not ready to go back into power.
"The real question is can you do any worse? They've had their shot and they've got it wrong."
Now Burke just attempts to ignore any discussions about politics with his family. He said he won't fall out with them over politics – and he'd even vote for his sister if she was running in his ward – but he felt ignored by Labour. "My friends are all saying the same thing. They feel failed completely [by Labour]," he said.
Then there's Cal Snape, 41, who thinks Labour have failed on immigration and international aid. "We give so much money to Pakistan. What the fuck do they give us besides terrorists?" he asked.
UKIP's promises over leaving the EU have also encouraged him to leave Labour. "There's no control of immigration. They just open the borders to anyone. Also I don't think we should be ruled by Brussels. I don't live in Brussels, I don't tell them what tomatoes to eat."
Marie Whittall has stopped voting Labour because of their policies on immigration as well as Ed Miliband's failure to get her support. The fact he forgot to talk about the deficit or immigration during his speech at last week's party conference appears to have left a mark.
"I don't think Ed Miliband's the right man for the job," she said. "All the policies that they're coming out with aren't tackling the major issues, like the deficit. We know that we have to pay it. Leaving them to run the country is terrifying when they don't even know what they're doing themselves.
"The reason I voted UKIP – and I know you're probably born and bred in this country [referring to this reporter] – but as far as I'm concerned immigration has gone through the roof. None of these political parties want to address it because when they do they get called racist."
Her concerns about Ed Miliband were reflected by Labour supporters too. Seventy-nine-year-old Jim Gould, for example, voted for Labour because "I'm working class and part of a union. But I'd much rather have David [Miliband] there. Or Andy Burnham. Or Ed Balls. Or Yvette Cooper."
The biggest concern for Labour, however, should be that those who told BuzzFeed News that they voted for the party did not give any definitive reason as to why, instead saying that they had voted for Labour all their lives.
Indeed, a recent Survation poll said that 61% of Labour supporters in the constituency were voting for the party because they had always voted for them whereas only 15% favoured them for their policies (compared to 19% for UKIP).
And that reflects what a senior Labour source told BuzzFeed News: "I've gone up a number of times and when door-knocking, you see people have moved to UKIP. There's a lot of disillusionment. People aren't happy in the area." He added that he was ignoring opinion polls, which put Labour comfortably in the lead and instead was expecting the results to be far closer. "I think it'll be within shaving distance," he said.
The question now for Labour is whether their main rival in the North will be UKIP – and whether in the seven months left, they can convince voters in their core constituencies that Labour is the party who will best represent them.
Siraj Datoo is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Siraj Datoo at email@example.com.
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