Benedict Churchus discusses the lessons in Sally Gimson's recent pamphlet and how to win back seats in the West Midlands.
Sally Gimson’s recent pamphlet “Building Bridges - Lessons from Bassetlaw for the Country” highlights how far we need to go to win back seats we lost in 2019. A result that caused the Tories to win 44 of the 59 seats, almost identical to Labour’s position in 1997 in the region, and they were 609 votes off of winning two more. Gimson’s focus on how we can reconnect with the countryside, and full-fibre broadband provides a route back to winning in 2024.
In order to win back, or even win seats for the first time in the West Midlands, we should understand and accept that Brexit is over. The West Midlands had the highest percentage of Leave voters out of all of the regions in the UK. A focus on the past will be disastrous and leaves us unable to make a case for the future.
Back when we launched the regional group, our Chair Nathan Hodson highlighted our plight saying, “Piling on votes in university cities cannot balance out drift away from Labour in towns and suburbs.” And we have drifted away; out of the 15 seats Labour have in the West Midlands, only one exists outside of the West Midlands Metro area. Gimson describes how Labour need to make an offer to the countryside, in recent elections we have increasingly positioned ourselves as an urban party. This has only been to the detriment of our case to the wider West Midlands region. In recent polling there has been an ever-growing trend of the Greens making gains in the region, we can harness this energy and focus on climate change and green policies that will unite the left-wing vote. Alongside being able to tell a national story of a quiet, practical radicalism that shares a Labour belief that our values owe more to Methodism than Marxism.
An example of practical radicalism has been highlighted by the necessity for our digital connections. There has been a recent rewriting of history recently that if only the public had voted for Labour in 2019 then we would not be in the digital crisis in schools we are currently in. That is false. What we proposed in 2019 – taking the broadband divisions of BT and bringing them into two brand new national wings of a British Broadband – would be a colossal project undertaking and one that would not change the lack of access that so many children face.
Such is the urgency of schoolchildren’s access to education we need to focus on immediate practicalities, we cannot point at a manifesto rejected by the public as the solution. Instead we should look at what Labour-run local councils have already done, Wolverhampton City Council have been rolling out 4G data Sim Cards, and devices directly to the schools who need them the most. A head teacher whose school was a recipient of this scheme described it as “practical help that’s making a real difference.” That quote embodies what Labour need to do in the West Midlands. It echoes Gimson’s analysis that “In their eyes, modern technology possibly needed to get ahead in the world was being made unattainable as the Labour party was more interested that in pragmatism.”
People in the West Midlands saw our manifesto pledge of a new nationalised British Broadband as unpractical, and as such unable to deliver them real change. The public understand that there has been a seismic shift in the way we work. A national infrastructure project of full-fibre rollout is essential and would provide much needed jobs, and future-proofed skills to the region. But it needs to be fully-costed and rooted in practical ideas. As Gimson suggests, we can utilise our world-class universities across the region to expand on the research park model we have already seen in Warwick and Birmingham, providing centres to skill the region for the future.
Sally Gimson highlights how making an offering to the countryside, and improving our digital infrastructure can provide Labour a route back to power. Gimson’s lessons will be fully resonant in the West Midlands and if we fail to learn from them we will never be able to gain the seats that will form our route back to Westminster.
Benedict Churchus currently works in the software sector. He is particularly interested in data, computing education policy and using political mapping tools for local campaigning. He is an active member of the West Midlands Young Fabians, and a Liaison Officer for the Young Fabians Technology, Defence & Cybersecurity Network. He tweets at @BenChurchus.