One Thing Labour Can’t Learn From Joe Biden’s Victory (And Why We Started A Regional Network for Young Fabians in the West Midlands)

Nathan Hodson introduces the new Young Fabians regional group for the West Midlands.

The presidential election launched a thousand hot takes seeking to divine the implications of Democrat victory for the Labour Party. But differences between the electoral college and the House of Commons constituency system suggest the two parties’ situations are not easily compared. Specifically, Labour needs to beat the Tories in semi-rural areas in order to win power, whereas Democrats can win states by piling up urban votes. That’s why, for a resurgent Labour Party, the West Midlands is the most exciting place to be.

The drawn-out count across the USA highlighted the diversity within states. When a new set of ballot papers from big cities like Philadelphia or Atlanta arrived, we saw an outsized Democrat vote. Megacity turnout in swing states mitigated the rural conservative vote.

The states contain multitudes because they are each mindbogglingly big: Pennsylvania has a population of 13 million and Michigan nearly 10 million. Even Wisconsin has a population of 5.8 million (roughly the same as the whole West Midlands region). Despite being 50-100 times larger than most MPs’ constituencies, each acts as a single winner-takes-all zone.

The difference in the scale of the winner-takes-all election means British progressives face a challenge from which American progressives are free. Piling on votes in university cities cannot balance out drift away from Labour in towns and suburbs.

And this is where the West Midlands Region comes in. Out of 59 constituencies, 15 have Labour MPs: 8 in Birmingham (population 977,000), 3 in Coventry (population 290,000), 3 in the Black Country and one in the Warwick and Leamington constituency which is the home of Warwick University.

Put another way, 14 of the 28 seats in the metropolitan West Midlands combined authority have Labour MPs. Only 1 of the remaining 31 constituencies in the region is represented by a Labour MP.

Readers may be unsurprised, but writing these areas off is totally wrong. Only 15 years ago Labour candidates were victorious in 39 of the 59 seats across the region. We won in North Warwickshire, Redditch, and Worcester. We won 9 out of 12 Staffordshire seats.

Back in 2005 the Conservatives only held 16 of the 59 West Midlands seats, but they never gave up on winning in places like Stoke-on-Trent. Voters across Staffordshire share Labour values, prioritising their local hospitals, a robust criminal justice system, and higher taxes for the wealthy. Yet in 2019 every single constituency in Staffordshire elected a Tory MP.

Unlike Democratic presidential candidates, Labour has little to gain from adding votes in a big city like Birmingham. The same goes for large areas of London and Manchester. The granular detail of UK constituencies demands a meticulously unifying, consensual politics. Change across our nation can only come when Labour regains the trust of the swing voters in Stoke-on-Trent North (majority 6,286), Worcester (majority 6,758), Newcastle-under-Lyme (majority 7,446).

But when an area loses its Labour MP it risks losing its voice at Labour’s top table. We did not even have a Young Fabians regional network until last month. We relaunched the regional network because we want all Labour policy conversations to include consideration of the Black Country, Worcestershire, Warwickshire, and Staffordshire where voters have, over the last decade, lacked enthusiasm for Labour party policy. We want to support all Young Fabians to incorporate implications for the wider West Midlands region into their research and discourse. If we can help you, or you would like to work with us, please email: westmidlands@youngfabians.org.uk.

Along with many other Fabians, I had a lump in my throat as I watched Joe Biden and Kamala Harris making their first speeches after winning the election. I thought of my friends living in America who are overjoyed to end a strange, dark chapter in their country’s history. But I also hunger and long for the day when a progressive leader for this country can make a victory speech. And when that day comes, it will be because people in the wider West Midlands once again trusted progressive policies and politics to deliver for them and for their families.

Nathan Hodson is a mental health doctor in Coventry and chair of the Young Fabians West Midlands Network 
He tweets at @nathanhodson.
The email for the West Midlands Young Fabian group is westmidlands@youngfabians.org.uk and their Twitter is in progress @WMYoungFabians.

 

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