Against Revolution: Fabianism in the West Midlands

Nathan Hodson discusses how Fabianism is key to designing the policies and achieving the change the West Midlands needs.

Today the Young Fabians West Midlands network is taking over the blog. One thing you might not know about the West Midlands is that at the 2016 referendum it had the largest pro-Brexit vote in the country. From Staffordshire to Herefordshire, the region voted strongly to leave the EU.

Over the last few years, discussion of Brexit focussed on the East Midlands, where a few areas had a leave vote over 70%. But across the West Midlands region 59.3% of people voted 'leave'. That’s more than 58.8% in the East Midlands, 58.0% in the North East and 57.7% in Yorkshire and the Humber.

It is fair to say that none of us knew what Brexit would be like. And I don’t believe that people who voted for it really believed they were getting the softest of soft Brexits promised by the Leave campaign; they were voting for change. A lot of people couldn’t accept the way they saw the UK going and thought it was better to shake things up. People in the West Midlands were willing to gamble because they didn’t see an alternative.

Something similar happened again in the 2019 general election. When lifelong Labour voters in the Black Country and Staffordshire voted for Boris Johnson many of them were casting revolutionary votes: “If voting Labour doesn’t help I might as well try voting Conservative”. They knew something was deeply wrong and were willing to try something different in case it produced better results.

Martin Edobor recently described Fabian values on this blog: “the Fabian ethos of gradualism - is radical.” He went on “in a world in which the Tories are willing to throw away so much of what makes this country great, defending what we have achieved and fighting for a better future is a radical act.”

Edobor is right. The Tories have leapt from one simplistic solution to the next: austerity; the hostile environment; hard Brexit. Desperate to hold onto power, they don’t care about the carnage left behind by half-baked policies.

But we know that the future of the UK can belong to the left and the Young Fabians take great care in stretching, challenging, and honing the policies needed to create a better country to live in.

One of the blogs being published today talks about George Dawson, a Birmingham preacher from the middle of the 19th century. He knew the truth about quick solutions hastily brought about: “Revolution is a costly method of change, only to be resorted to in dire extremity.”

The Fabian way is not the way of reckless revolutions that risk putting the vulnerable in harm’s way. Revolutions almost always strip away rights and pull apart safety nets. The human cost is too high.

The Fabian way is to plan and prepare evidence-based policies so that, when the time comes, we are ready to rebuild a fairer society. We don’t think much of easy answers. Instead it is our responsibility as Fabians, to provide those finely tuned ideas which will build the United Kingdom and lift up the left behind.

Voters in the West Midlands will continue seeking change until they can see a nation which gives everybody a fair shot growing up and takes care of those who need it. The other blogs being posted today illustrate how people on the left can create that nation. They show people in the West Midlands rising up to make the changes their communities need and demonstrate how creating better-connected regions can enrich all of us.

But it falls to us to prove that the change we need will not come through another reckless Tory project, but through Labour victory. George Dawson put the challenge this way: “On you it depends whether we advance peacefully but quickly in the path of progress, or whether we must succumb to injustice on one side, or anarchy on the other. Remember, Reform delayed is Revolution begun.”


Nathan Hodson is a mental health doctor in Coventry and chair of the Young Fabians West Midlands Network. 

He tweets at @nathanhodson.

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