Loyal party supporters in small towns grow tired with Labour and the inadequacies of its post-Brexit position, warns Nic Dakin
Labour is in a much better place than it was a year ago, but we still sit on the opposition green benches while this dreadful Conservative government continues to make the lives of the people we represent ever more difficult.
I represent the three towns of Bottesford, Kirton-in-Lindsey and Scunthorpe together with surrounding villages. It is towns like these that feel they have been for too long ignored and left behind while London, the south-east and other big cities have had investment ploughed into them. The longstanding view that all public money in our area goes to Hull has been reaffirmed by its awarding of a city of culture status.
When public and private sectors contract, it is our small towns that lose out: Kirton loses its last bank, Scunthorpe’s family and magistrates’ court is closed, Lloyds Clearing bank shuts down its high performing facility in Scunthorpe to consolidate its presence in Sheffield and the green open spaces in Bottesford get built on for yet more housing. The list goes on, and local people perceive nothing being put back into our area while their high street shrinks and is taken over by charity shops. They feel they have no control over what is happening to their town. I see North Lincolnshire’s vote by two to one to leave the European Union as a shout to be heard, to stop being ignored, to call for policy and programmes that begin to take small towns seriously.
So how have we, the Labour party, responded to this cry, this desire for a new approach? Not well. In this year’s general election there were two very strong responses to us. The first was strong from the start and ever-present on the doorstep: a frustration with Labour. A sense that we were as responsible as anyone else for the plight of our area. An anger about immigration. And a view that Labour cannot be trusted on security – policing, defence and terrorism. Too many times I heard people saying ‘You have been a great member of parliament. I have always voted Labour but cannot vote Labour this time’ or ‘I have got real concerns about Labour. I no longer have confidence in the party. But I will vote for you this time if you promise to sort things out after the election.’ And these concerns are still a real issue with our core, traditional, particularly white working-class vote.
The second strong response came later in the campaign from people who saw themselves as first time voters. Young voters but also people in their thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, even seventies who said they had not voted before but would do this time. They were fed up with the endless woe served up by the Tories and they were excited and energised by the vision of hope offered in our positive manifesto. Turnout in Scunthorpe went up by eight per cent – buoyed by their enthusiasm and optimism.
Labour must continue to energise, excite and mobilise these new voters. These voters can so easily be attracted by the next electoral fad or fall away entirely. The hard work of the leader’s energetic campaigning over the summer is a first step in this hard graft of ongoing engagement. But these voters alone will not bring electoral success. We also need to win back the disgruntled. The left behind. The small towns. The lifelong Labour voters who either left us at the last election – or almost left us and put us on borrowed time.
The Conservatives got their highest ever vote in Scunthorpe constituency, adding 5,000 to their total and arrived at the count believing they had won. Labour’s vote increased by 5,300 so our majority went up but its fragility is clear. Listening to those disgruntled Labour voters who will always cast their ballots for someone it is clear to me that their overwhelming concern is about identity – security and immigration. If we want to win the next general election, whenever it comes, they will need to believe we take their concerns seriously and that we have positions on security and immigration that not only reassure them but they can relate to.
Nic Dakin is member of parliament for Scunthorpe. He tweets at @NicDakinMP
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