Labour: Expert discusses ‘Red Wall’ seats
The Labour Party is currently reeling from its rejection in England’s local elections. While it held on to a handful of councils, the general picture saw the party lose overall control of a number of regions, some of which it had held for over 100 years. Much attention was given to the Red Wall where a defeat at the Hartlepool by-election was seen as the nail in the coffin for Sir Keir Starmer’s hopes of rebuilding his party’s once immovable foothold in the North of England.
Thinkers, politicians, commentators and more across the political spectrum have given their verdict on why the Labour Party lost the trust of its traditional base of working class voters in 2019.
Paul Embery, a leading trade unionist and Labour member, has told Express.co.uk that the defeat was a long time in the making, spanning decades of liberalisation, globalisation and appealing to a broader electorate under figures like Tony Blair and Jeremy Corbyn.
Mr Embery, among others, suggests that while Labour must keep the voters it has attracted in years passed – young graduates, city dwellers, middle class liberals – it has to ditch the “wokeness” it adopted under Mr Corbyn.
Yet, if a YouGov poll is anything to go by, the answer to Labour’s problems could be greater than previously thought.
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Patrick English, a research manager at the pollster, recently conducted a comprehensive survey looking at the question: “Is the stereotypical image of ‘Red Wall’ residents actually accurate?”
The results found that assumptions about voters in the Red Wall that Labour and the Conservatives have been chasing are “fundamentally not true”.
Speaking to The Times’ Red Box podcast, he said: “We asked loads of things people might consider social liberal progressive policies to see if it’s true that the Red Wall voter or resident doesn’t care about climate change, is socially conservative and doesn’t like change in all these different kinds of metrics.
“What we found is that is fundamentally not true.
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“There’s a whole group of issues which the Red Wall take liberal or neutral positions on, and that includes trans gender rights, teaching Britain’s colonial and slave trade past in schools, climate change, multiculturalism, restricting hate speech online.
“And yes, they’re even more positive on immigration than they are negative.
“So all these assumptions that were going around about Red Wall voters, they just don’t stack up when you look at the data.”
Vitally, the poll revealed that people living in Red Wall constituencies look “much like the rest of the country”.
This places Sir Keir in a predicament as it appears his operation since becoming leader has been to adopt what he believes is a working class mentality.
He is scarcely seen without a Union Jack flag in the background during speeches and TV appearances.
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This has been widely interpreted as his nod to turning Labour into the “patriotic party”, something he promised to do on becoming leader.
However, the party faced yet another crisis earlier this year after a strategy memo was leaked appearing to show his plans for winning back Red Wall seats.
It came from an internal strategy presentation commissioned by Labour that stated it must make “use of the [union] flag, veterans [and] dressing smartly” in order to win back voters.
Seen by The Guardian, it also revealed that the party has a new term for Red Wall areas, now calling them “foundation seats”.
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A senior Labour official told the publication that the language came from the brand agency Republic’s language rather than the party’s.
With the poll in mind, however, Sir Keir’s efforts may have been in vain.
Professor Richard Wyn Jones, a political scientist, said while Sir Keir’s acknowledgement that Labour has a patriotism problem – and by extension an identity problem – is a good start, he and the party don’t understand the nature of the crisis, which is fundamental to winning back those lost voters.
He told Express.co.uk: “The nature of that problem is in England where they’ve been losing the votes of people who identify as English in successive elections.
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“That’s something they really struggle with, and they even struggle to see it, let alone look at what to do about it.”
Since the elections, Sir Keir has “refreshed” his party by sacking and hiring a range of existing party top brass, including Angela Rayner, Rachel Reeves and Anneliese Dodds.
Last week, he outlined his focus on the party going forward in bringing a new economic offer to voters.
This, he said, wouldn’t dwell on former leaders Mr Blair and Mr Corbyn who, in recent years, have dominated Labour’s internal conflicts.