Boris Johnson and the Tories have attempted to make this election one solely focussed on Brexit. But left-wing Labour candidates in Leave-voting areas are trying to win over workers and youth with class-based policies.
This election was supposed to be the Brexit election for Boris Johnson and his Tories. With the establishment media behind them – including the so-called ‘impartial’ BBC – it should have been an easy fight. But the mass movement behind Jeremy Corbyn has stopped that.
By bringing class issues to the fore, the question of Brexit has been chipped away. Concerns about housing, schools and most importantly the NHS have come to the fore. Hundreds of thousands of first-time canvassers and activists have been hitting the streets, carrying a message of hope to every inch of the country.
But this fight has even had to include areas of the country that Labour once relied upon for support, in the heartlands of the North. These working-class communities were left shattered by the deindustrialisation and Tory attacks of the 1970-80s. And after this, they were neglected by successive New Labour governments.
A strong sense of solidarity, forged down the pits and on picket lines, has faded away over the years. Thatcher smashed these communities to destroy the strength of the organised working class – most famously the National Union of Miners.
Subsequently, New Labour treated these areas like rotten boroughs; tickets to power for careerists, parachuting in many of the worst Blairites.
The last ten years of austerity under the Tories, meanwhile, has only rubbed salt into the wounds. Local council cuts, zero-hours contracts, and privatised services have destroyed what remained of the community spirit.
The EU referendum in 2016 seemed to offer a chance for those living in these areas to kick back at the establishment by voting Leave. But the chaos around the question of Brexit since has left many still feeling ignored.
Johnson’s Tories and their friends in the Brexit Party have tried to capitalise on this sentiment. These class enemies have painted themselves as champions of ‘the people’ as they promise to listen to Leave voters and ‘Get Brexit Done’. For Labour, this means that new fronts have opened in this election battle, in places they have never before had to fight for.
One such area is the constituency of Rother Valley, south of Rotherham. A former mining area that includes Orgreave within its boundaries, it voted overwhelmingly to Leave in the EU referendum. Here, the struggle is on to return a Labour MP.
The Labour candidate is Sophie Wilson – a young, working-class woman who has lived, gone to school, and worked in the area. Sophie is a staunch supporter of Corbyn and firmly on the left of the party.
Socialist Appeal supporters from Sheffield recently attended a canvassing session in the town of Dinnington, a deprived area that has seen some of the worst impacts of austerity. Socialist Appeal spoke to Sophie afterwards to find out how the campaign is going.
Explaining how the last ten years of a Tory government has hit Dinnington, Sophie points down the road to the local college campus, where both her mother and sister went. It is part of Rotherham College, which is privatised and run for profit by the RNN Group. Despite handouts from government, she tells us Dinnington campus is now threatened with closure by the company. The NEU reports that this has put 76 employees at risk and would deprive the community of its educational needs.
Sophie highlights how this raises the question of accountability: where has government funding gone? This story is the same up and down the country. The education sector has been treated as a cash cow by the Tories and their chums who want to turn a quick profit at the expense of children and education workers. The books should be opened up to uncover this scam.
Sophie also describes how the closing and selling off of miners’ welfare centres has left the community without places to meet – and, importantly, to organise to fight against the Tories.
She cites a general feeling of being left behind; of neglect leading to anger. Without a strong labour movement, this anger ends up being expressed in a distorted way in a vote to Leave. Sophie stresses that Labour share a responsibility for this, with Labour complacently taking Rother Valley “for granted”.
We asked whether Labour’s policies were cutting across this combination of anger and apathy on the doorstep. Sophie enthusiastically explains a story most Labour activists will have now become familiar with: most people don’t want to talk about Brexit!
Although its difficult to cut across the nonsense, especially with the mainstream media doing its best to hammer it home, Sophie describes how actually it is failing bus services, school cuts, and the struggling NHS that are the issues people really care about.
It’s a matter of explaining how the Tories and the capitalist market have led to these problems. Only a Labour government armed with socialist policies can fix them. As she explains its simply about letting people know that “Labour is on your side”.
OTJC is proud to endorse Sophie Wilson as the next Labour Party Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Rother Valley.
Sophie is a strong socialist candidate who will fight for this ex mining community, our class and for an inquiry into Orgreave. pic.twitter.com/mXwwMBTWr6
— Orgreave Justice (@orgreavejustice) October 18, 2019
Sophie is determined not to be the first person to lose the seat for Labour. It has been Labour for 101 years, but now has a majority dwindled down to around 3,800. Sophie knows that Labour’s fight to keep Rother Valley red will be difficult. But recent experiences and conversations prove that policies tackling the everyday issues of the working class can cut across the toxic mix of Brexit and apathy.
The Tories sickening attempt to win the support of those it has hurt the most – such as these ex-mining communities – can only be countered by a Labour commitment to fundamentally transform society.
Labour can only win, and stay in power, by ensuring that constituencies such as Rother Valley undergo a socialist transformation – one that will irreversibly fix the ills of capitalism and transform working-class anger into hope.
Whatever the outcome of Thursday, this should be the lesson learnt from this campaign. The determination of Labour activists seen already needs to continue beyond this election, in order to ensure a victory for our class, whatever the obstacles in our way.