As we have just seen from the EU referendum, post-industrial towns are the new political battleground. By and large, places like Wales (in particular south Wales) and the north of England held enough power to shock the country into a rude political awakening and reality. How has this happened and what can the left do now?
What we have seen over the last few of weeks is an explosion of resistance from some of the poorest people in this country – a long and desperate cry for help. Towns that had been forgotten, deserted and had the heart ripped from them by decades-long political abandonment have spent years looking for answers, with Nigel Farage and his Ukip colleagues only too glad to provide them. Nothing has happened in these towns – such as my hometown of Merthyr Tydfil – for the last 20 years, and now Ukip has filled the political vacuum. Let’s be real: for many, voting leave and voting Ukip was (ironically) the only source of hope they had seen in decades.
“Idiots! Racists!” many will cry in anger towards people who voted Leave. Like Ukip, which blames immigrants for the country’s ills, the liberal intelligentsia have started blaming the poor and their desperation to change their lives as the root of the problem, instead of blaming the broken economic system and the uninspiring parties of Westminster. We cannot simply blame the people who Ukip and Vote Leave targeted and manipulated with their powerful ideological message. People don’t knowingly vote against their interests – they vote on what they believe to be true, and if we are honest, the left has failed to build and organise an alternative ‘truth’.
The left walked away from Labour. The task was too big. Tony Blair was taking us into illegal wars and the left despaired. My grandfather was the chair of the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency Labour party – once the biggest constituency in Wales. He, like many others, packed up and left – the game was over. “It’s not me who left the party,” he would say. “The party left me!” It’s only now that he and many other older Labour activists are joining the party once again to support Jeremy Corbyn and re-establish the values that used to thrive in communities like Merthyr.
So what does the future hold for us now? Novara readers will know that the problems most people face in the areas such as south Wales are by and large economic: joblessness, lack of local investment, not enough housing and a sense of hopelessness. Towns like Merthyr have been searching for answers, and while many may know Farage or a Leave vote were never going to provide them, the Labour party under Corbyn – for the first time in a generation – is in prime position to provide answers which get to the root of the problems felt in these communities.
The Labour left should have hope because Brexit has created the opportunity and space for Labour to get organising in towns that are desperate for hope and change. Labour needs to start (physically) knocking on the doors that were taken for granted for decades, talking to those who are first-time voters, and those who have been taken in by Ukip and the Leave campaign. Now is the time to begin rebuilding in the communities that have been worst hit by austerity and cuts.
Photo: Phil Richards/Flickr