An Economic Lens to Reclaiming the Heartlands – a Fabian/Young Fabian Pamphlet

The YF Economy and Finance Network provide an overview of their Reclaiming the Heartlands pamphlet, produced jointly with the Fabians

How different are the actions needed for Labour to win in each geographic region of the country? This is the question being addressed in the Fabian pamphlet An Economic Lens to reclaiming the heartlands: 100 years since Labour’s First Government. The pamphlet’s diagnosis of why Labour lost in 2019 and how it can win in 2024 are divided geographically and demographically (there are sections on the ‘Green’ and ‘Middle England’ demographics).

Taking a regional approach allows the authors (who mainly have lived in the areas they are writing about) to delve deeply into the specific conditions in each area. Although there are many common reasons for Labour’s 2019 loss across the country, the paths to 2024 victory vary. In Scotland, Sabrina Sforza argues for low interest business loans, skills funding and a Scotland-EU version of the VikingLink cable. In Wales, Amy Swain and Jack Parker lay out how Labour should support the policies of Mark Drakeford’s government, as well as attracting remote and professional workers through better transport and supporting long-term plans for the Mersey Dee Alliance train and roads connection between Wales and Merseyside. 

In the East Midlands Sam Sherburn and Ashveer Bal lay out the case for a Green New Deal, including an ‘integrated local public transport network, to be achieved by linking bus services to train stations and aligning timings, introducing smart ticketing and payment systems, and increasing the frequency and convenience of connections. In the West Midlands Zac Baker Williams and Lauren Davison see Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) as key parts of a vision for Community Wealth Building (CWB). Ciaran Tomlin and Dominic Jones also argue for CWB in their piece from Yorkshire and the Humber, and they provide a detailed picture of why Labour’s performance in Wakefield can be seen as illustrative of many of the party’s problems in the region. In Greater London Neil Weeks and Bilal Mahmood focus on Chingford and Woodford Green as it is a microcosm of many similar suburban constituencies across the country and pay particular attention to wages, especially the need to cut the gender and ethnicity pay gaps. 

In the North East and North West investment in manufacturing and industry is a key theme. Owen Stratford and Molly Hall argue that the North East should see large-scale re-industrialisation through higher R&D spending and supporting carbon-intensive industries to transition. Amy Dwyer argues that Labour should focus on transport in the North West as it is the least connected part of the UK, and also has the lowest R&D investment per person at a shocking £25/person in 2018 compared to £300/person in London. 

The South-East has not been a major heartland for Labour in the past but Eleanor Bruce argues that Labour should focus on housing to reach a generally more affluent part of the country. The South-West, on the other hand, is a more rural and agricultural region and George Richmond provides a reality check. While in 1997 Labour won 150 rural and semi-rural seats, it won only 17 in 2019. He argues for a Rural Sustainable Futures Act with a large transport component, as well as a National Institute for Agroecology Development, showing that the knowledge economy is not limited to cities.

As well as geographic heartlands, Labour also has demographic heartlands. Nicolas Birman-Trickett and Marie Hill argue that to win over the ‘Green’ demographic Labour needs to offer policy to retrain workers, repurpose land for green assets and adopt a green trade policy. Dominic Shaw sees fiscal responsibility and reducing middle earners’ tax burden as critical for winning over Middle Englanders, a demographic group which was key to New Labour’s success and could be key again in 2024.

As the saying goes, “all politics is local”,’ and this analysis provides a granular, and usefully regional, lens through which to understand the distance Labour has to go and also how to get there. The next step in the analysis should be to understand how these themes can be brought together under a unified strategy. How can Labour tell a convincing and unifying story to the country that will speak to the public from the South-West to Scotland on these issues? 

One theme that comes through particularly strongly in the pamphlet is transport. It touches on a number of key labour values, from the importance of bus and train connections for reducing regional disparities, the symbolic importance of trains in Britain’s industrial past and also the electric vehicle revolution which will speak to car owners and the ‘Green’ demographic alike. Ultimately the next election might be won or lost on whether the particular circumstances laid out in this pamphlet can be successfully understood and woven into a unified story the Labour Party can tell.

This post was authored by Philip Bell, on behalf of the Young Fabian Economy and Finance Network.

If you would like to learn more about the Young Fabians Economy and Finance Network please reach out to us via our email address: [email protected].

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You can read "An Economic Lens to Reclaiming the Heartlands" here.

There is a launch event tomorrow in Parliament, with Labour MPs and IPPR exec director Carys Roberts, further information here.

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