The Red Wall

The so-called ‘Red Wall’ includes many of the old Labour strongholds like Great Gimsby, Workington, that is famously being challenged by the Tories, and Don Valley. Many of these seats have non-local MPs who have been given a safe seat as a reward. Don Valley in Yorkshire, for example, is the seat of former Blair cabinet member Caroline Flint who grew up in London. Many of these seats voted heavily to leave the European Union and it is predicted that a swing of 9% to the Tories would be sufficient to deliver a working majority of at least 28 to Boris Johnson. At the moment the polls suggest that this will occur, kicking Labour veteran Dennis Skinner out of his seat.

It is now a truism to say that the British electorate is shifting its allegiances more than ever before. A swathe of Labour strongholds, stretching from North Wales across the Midlands and the North, the so called red wall, is looking shaky. Seats like Don Valley in Yorkshire, a former coal mining area, that has returned Labour MPs since the 20’s are predicted to fall to the Tories on 12th December.

Polling, focus groups, and news reports tell the same story. The people of these areas do not trust Corbyn. They see him as a member of the left-wing London elite that cares more for the people of Venezuela or the IRA than ensuring their economic prosperity. They dislike his disdain of the armed forces and despair at the muddled Labour policy that would likely overturn the result of the referendum that they so comprehensively voted for. As a result, sections of the electorate that once would rather have died than vote Tory, will think twice before crossing the box next to the red rose.

Much of this, however, is not Corbyn’s fault. His preferred policy platform, present in a diluted form in the Labour manifesto is one of easing the economic burden of the least well off in society by imposing a much heavier burden on the wealthy. This is an admirable goal and essential in a climate of mounting inequality. Other elements of the manifesto such as the National Education Service to help workers retrain for new careers that didn’t exist in their youth or providing high-speed broadband to the entire nation are well thought out policies to help the people living in ‘red wall’ areas. However, these are not the policies that are cutting through and reaching the electorate. They are tertiary issues in an election that can only be about one thing.

Corbyn’s foreign policy quirks could have been forgiven as long as he stayed firm on the one issue that mattered. On this he failed by allowing Labour, after months of internal wrangling, to define itself as a party of Remain with numerous caveats.

This complicated Brexit policy has allowed the Tories to define this election as another run of the 2016 EU referendum and the polling suggests that history will repeat itself. This is not Corbyn’s fault. A long term Eurosceptic, he has voted against every European treaty and for the EU referendum, breaking the Labour whip to do so. He has long regarded the EU as a neoliberal project that helps employers undermine the ability of workers to bargain with their employers for better conditions. What power, he asks, does a workforce have if they can be easily replaced by immigrants from Eastern Europe? When it comes to Brexit, Corbyn is far more in tune with the voters of the north than many would believe. So why has Labour chosen to follow such a muddled policy of renegotiating a deal that it would then campaign against?

It has been the centrist, moderate and metropolitan MPs, the darlings of the metropolitan left that are responsible for this betrayal of Labour’s base. Moderate MPs such as Sir Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry who sit on the front bench with folded arms and amused smiles that say ‘we all know he is mad but once we lose the election he will be gone and it will be business as usual’ have forgotten what the party known as Labour was established to do.

The majority of them are London MPs who have nothing but disdain for the people of the North. Complaints of schools being full up and no jobs are dismissed with a waggled finger as xenophobia by lawyers and union officials more used to Westminster than Yorkshire.

Their politics are not those of coal miners and strikes. They represent a new generation of facile left-wing thought found largely in students and people working in right-on fields such as media or creative industries. They believe in freedom of movement, hate speech and everyone being nice to each other which are not issues that poll well in the red wall. These politicians have presumed that the north would always vote for Labour and so have become indifferent to their concerns and dismissive of their needs and this is finally being rewarded by voters.

A weak and divided Labour has perpetuated the Brexit fiasco for three years and allowed a zombie Tory government to limp on. Rebel MPs should back their leader and put their case to the people as strongly as they can or leave the party and join another party or set up on own. The smug rebels need a reality check.