This article has been published anonymously.
[Featured Image: Two official looking red signs reading ‘Vote Labour’ being held by two people].
Defined as industrial towns in the North of England, ‘Labour heartlands’ have traditionally been perceived as being aligned with patriotism and social conservatism. Areas such as Leigh, Bolsover, Burnley and Redcar in the so-called ‘red wall’ have arguably been neglected by the Labour Party, which led to an onslaught of Conservative gains in long-established Labour seats. Following the collapse of the red-wall, questions have emerged as to how Labour can reconnect with its heartlands.
There is an argument circulating that Labour has shifted away from its northern working-class roots, towards a metropolitan London elite who are detached from the needs of working-class people. This London centric coalition is said to consist of university students and liberal white-collar workers, who are associated with progressivism and left-wing economic policies. Therefore, many people believe the way to win back these neglected communities in the North lies in the pursuit of a more socially conservative platform, which will embrace a tougher stance on issues like immigration and crime, associated as key concerns of the red wall working class. This seeks to alter Labour’s voting base; from young, multi-cultural, middle-class city-dwellers, to the traditional white working class it has abandoned.
Yet, I find this narrative worrying. We should not reduce the working class to racially homogenous, socially conservative individuals living in Northern mining towns. Being working class is not synonymous with whiteness, or northerness. Working class people exist up and down the country, and ethnic minorities in this socio-economic group are likely to be hit hardest by policies like austerity. Labour does not need to neglect the interests of one group in order to reconnect with another.
Furthermore, cities should not be homogenised, as middle-class utopias free of working class-individuals. In fact, some of the most vicious inequalities exist in London, with areas such as Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Islington holding astonishingly high rates of child poverty. The working class exist across Britain, and it is these voices as a whole that are not being listened to.
Instead of engaging in the narrative that Labour lost the heartlands because they were too socially progressive, they should instead consider the possibility that simply because Labour has traditionally held certain groups support, does not mean they are continually entitled to it. Brexit is a perfect example of this. What was most striking about the election result and the subsequent leaving of the European Union on the 31st of January, is the disdain with which working class individuals are viewed with, as if they have no agency and deserve to be treated badly as they voted Conservative. How can you truly say you have the interests of the working class at heart if you believe them to be too uneducated to make their own decisions, and believe they deserve austerity and cuts to their services? Perhaps it is this tendency to view the working class in this way, that eroded their support in the first place. Labour should not act on the assumption that they deserve support from working class areas. They must earn it.
Labour needs to pursue a platform that puts more power in the hands of working-class people, and adequately supports their interests – not one that demeans them or blames them for the way this country is headed. The responsibility of the state of the nation lies within the politicians we elect, not those who elected them, whether they be landed gentry in the South-East who voted to serve their interests or working people in Bolsover who didn’t find Corbyn’s Labour vision inspiring or trustworthy.
Thus, Labour’s next leader must be committed to listening to working class communities across the country. They should never assume that merely because they wish to tackle inequality that this alone demands the trust of the working class. Labour majorities in these areas has been dwindling for years, for example Sedgefield dwindled from 25,000 to 8,000 and then disappeared entirely.
Labour has been warned, they just haven’t listened.
This lies in organisation, grass-roots work and putting power back in our communities. It means lifting up councils, listening and learning from working class people, whether they exist in Deptford, Devon or Derby. The Labour Party needs a clear narrative about why they lost, what they can do for working class people, and to communicate clearly with these groups. They can no longer assume a relationship between certain places and political loyalty. Despite the fact working class people may fundamentally want similar things and experience similar struggles, such as a lack of job security, they are not a monolith, and should not be treated as such.