Where’s the shock in Blyth turning Blue?

12 December 22:23pm, walking in the direction of a bar sobbing, ‘do they not remember 1985?’ I’m sure I wasn’t entirely alone — watching the Labour ‘strong-holds’ turn was like jumping in an 8ft plunge pool, looking up for long enough to fill your lungs with air and realising you’re surrounded by fascists.

People were shocked by the General Election result, but those communities have been lost for so long. Here, I attempt to explain why modern Labour’s offensive assumption of loyalty left those towns behind. Scarred by the pervasive neo-liberal culture that is unapologetic and brutal utilitarianism, this cultural shift went largely unidentified. What was once cleverly disguised as entrepreneurialism; now underpins many working-class voting intentions and that is what explains Labour’s catastrophic defeat in 2019. 

A vote for Labour is a vote for their brother they may never meet. As soon as a comrade ticks the box only for what the party can do for them, their support is simply superficial compliance. All this time red seats in the North might as well have been empty, because the votes have been apathetic. All this time the red seats in the North have been slipping, not to the right, but into no man’s land, making voters, no longer akin with the labour values of their predecessors, perfect prey for the grubby clutches of Dominic Cummings. 

that red vein of the labour movement hasn’t been pulsing in years

The penetrative philosophy and timeless values of compassion, justice and comradeship were found exclusively in the distinctive cultures of factories and pits. When the mines closed, their culture and community was robbed from them also. The once booming towns of Sheffield and Sedgefield were discarded and plagued with unemployment. Neo-liberal brutality left these towns as largely harsh and unstimulating environments. They have since been left with no prospect of reform to relieve the realities of the breakdown of those local economies. 

If you look at working class communities today — that red vein of the labour movement hasn’t been pulsing in years. Those identities have been oversimplified to a colour and the name of a party. Sure, they knew their ‘life-long’ allegiances, but did they know it like their mining ancestors? 

That’s why they found it no strain at all to tick the box of who we assumed, was the enemy. Because the ‘enemy’ appealed to the new message at the heart of those communities, replacing labour values, with capitalism’s favourite myth, ‘work hard and you can rise to the top,’ even if it means stamping on your working brothers and sisters, leaving them behind. The harsh reality of Thatcher’s damaged post-industrial towns is the dilution of the socialist message; forming the clear and well-lit way for exploitation. This myth of meritocracy finally penetrated through the now thinning red dome, shielding the likes of Sunderland and Blyth Valley, while being championed by Thatcherite’s favourite neo-liberal muppet who simply accessorised the American dream with a pint and they were sold. 

Comradeship and solidarity were words that became uncommon and a city with no workplace encouraged dog to eat dog.

Pre-dating the General Election — due merely to the incompetence of particular Labour local councils — many were already turning blue. This certainly desensitised those with a shallow support for Labour and their ‘life-long’ loyalty was quickly usurped. 

Those who represent socialism in the UK landscape need to realise that along with the Tories, we too left the white working class behind. Policies never focused on those communities that needed them the most because the London-centric Labour Party understood their support as reliable and unwavering. No one noticed the falsity behind the northern sea of red. ‘This is a Labour town’, they chanted, ‘through and through’, so no one bothered to ask what they needed. Comradeship and solidarity were words that became uncommon and a city with no workplace encouraged dog to eat dog.

Then comes a Svengalian character, with more unruly hair than Major, sinking more pints than Cameron, and having far less X chromosomes than Thatcher who asked for their vote. It was a pretty easy tick since they no longer saw the value in those old repeated sentiments and had no trouble at all changing their bumper stickers to blue. Members of these forgotten towns reminded a complacent central party that they have political agency. So rather than, ‘they are being lead wrong’, we must ask, how did we ignore the cultural destruction that de-industrialisation damned those areas to? With the election of Keir Starmer, one can only hope the seemingly moderate future of the Labour Party remembers who built them.

By Alice Connor

Illustration: By Rachel Cottrell

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