Building a Green Wall

Daniel Ward discusses the conditions that led to Brexit make our northern towns ripe for proud environmentalism. 

Getting climate action up the agenda of governments means making it a key issue for the survival of governments. In the UK, this means putting it on the top of the agenda in seats that a party looks to win to win a majority. 

Following the 2019 election, many post-industrial seats saw huge swings towards the Conservative Party, with long standing Labour seats like Ashfield, Grimsby and Wrexham changing hands and other seats, such as Hemsworth, seeing safe majorities slashed into extremely marginal territory. 

Now, a huge part of Labour’s election plan must resolve around doing as Joe Biden did in America and winning these long term Labour seats back. Meanwhile, much of the Conservative strategy for the next five years will revolve around consolidating their support, and establishing a voting tradition, in these key areas and lock Labour out of Government for a generation. 

Winning these seats offers the keys to number 10, and campaigners who wish to influence political decision making must secure a strong voice in these areas to get their issue on the Government’s agenda. 

To do this, they must understand the nature of the change that led to such a strong political change over the past few years. 

When these once industrial towns lost their key industries, they lost sources of pride and identity to their community. This vacuum has been filled with nationalist sentiment with drastic political results, playing a key part in driving huge Brexit vote margins in these areas and subsequently breaking decades of Labour hegemony in these communities in 2019. 

Losing these skilled industries has also come at a time when higher levels of education are seen as more crucial by the day to having a ‘successful’ life. This leaves those without advanced qualifications, a group disproportionally represented in northern towns, often feeling left behind by the modern world. 

These attitudes have seeped in over decades and will take time to unpick, but they also offer fertile ground for environmentalist groups. 

Environmentalism means action taken on local level benefits the whole world and action taken by the whole world that benefits our local communities. Empowering communities in environmentalist behaviour would mean that places see pride in their place in the modern world, not having to hark back to prior glories, and would cast the success of residents as actions to tackle climate change not what grades they received at 16. 

Giving our towns an environmentalist purpose and identity in today’s world would mean they would take this to the ballot box, much as old mining towns showed their strong unionism in becoming Labour strongholds in the 20th century, driving environment issues up the agenda in key seats. 

Creating these communities will require environmentalist groups to have patience and move into areas where they currently have little cut through, but taking an approach to climate activism that focuses on pride and place would offer environmentalists a much greater chance of achieving political change. 

Daniel Ward works has over three years of experience working for Labour MPs across the country.

He tweets at @danward252. 

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