Ukip is strongest in England’s Puritan heartlands, but it is growing among Catholics – how will the Church respond?

Nigel Farage – attracting Catholics (Dave Thompson/PA Wire)

Will the bishops advise Catholics in England and Wales not to vote Ukip in their election guidance? The text was drawn up at this month’s plenary meeting, and although the advice will be “in no way party political”, it will likely include references to the “dignity of migrants”. Some people will see this as a not-entirely-subtle dig at the eurosceptic party.

In the past couple of years a number of Catholic bishops have spoken up about the benefits of immigration, among them Patrick Lynch of Southwark and Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton, as well as the cardinal himself. And although the bishops’ traditionally close relationship with Labour Party has cooled since 1997, they are not likely to join the purple revolution anytime soon.

The Catholic Church in England has traditionally been the Labour Party at prayer, the religion being dominated by mostly working-class Irish immigrants. In fact the Labour party in England was almost unique in Europe in creating a socialist opposition that bridged sectarian divides.

Even today, according to polls cited by Archbishop Cranmer, 45 per cent of UK Catholics intend to vote Labour, despite the party’s current woes, although some 12.9 per cent now support Ukip; compare this to figures of 32 and 18 per cent respectively among Anglicans. Ukip also has the support of 15.9 per cent of Baptists, 10 per cent of Methodists, and is in double digits with Jews and atheists. Even among Hindus and Sikhs their support is not insignificant; only Muslims really shun the party – just 0.8 per cent say they will vote for Farage and co.

I’ve often wondered if Ukip is not some sort of latter day Puritan revolt; if you look at maps of their support it is strongest in the eight counties that were involved in the Great Migration, from Lincolnshire down to Kent. These are the areas where Protestantism was strongest but even before that they were traditionally rebellious; Kent, Essex and East Anglia were the homes of the Peasants Revolt and the following century Kent was home to the Cade rebellion, when angry yeomen turned on what we’d now call the liberal elite. The most rebellious folk were the upper peasantry, the yeomen, the same social class who today are the most likely to support Ukip, and the peasants revolt wasn’t in fact called that until centuries later. The 1381 uprising also had a strongly xenophobic undertone, and when they reached London they attacked the Flemish migrants.

These are the most Protestant parts of England and not coincidentally the most eurosceptic, but as the polls show, Nigel Farage’s party also has considerable support among papists. The party is growing in Catholic England’s heartland of Lancashire and came with a few hundred votes of winning Jim Dobbin’s seat earlier this month, on the day it won Clacton in Essex. Many Catholics don’t share their hierarchy’s enthusiasm for immigration, nor the European Union, while Ukip’s opposition to gay marriage surely attracted them Christian votes from all parties and to all churches; and stories like these make even fairly liberal Christians despair of the main parties and their uniform support for state-enforced equality.

In fact when Farage retires the party may be led by a left-footer; deputy leader Paul Nuttall is a practising Catholic from Liverpool, and after playing football for Tranmere Rovers he studied sectarianism in politics for his PhD. Another Catholic MEP, Margot Parker, last month told the Catholic Herald that the Church hierarchy should talk to Ukip. Will they take up her offer?

Ed West is the author of The Diversity Illusion


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