CORBYN’S LABOUR IN THE TORY HEARTLAND
It has long been a truism in British political life that the further south-east in the country you go the more Conservative everybody is. This is largely borne out by history and a brief glance at the electoral map of the United Kingdom will show huge swathes of blue in the south-east outside of London, serving to further prop up the narrative-driven idea of London as inherently different or special in comparison to the surrounding area.
The constituencies of the south-east are some of the wealthiest areas of the country, if not Europe, and over the years have been home to some of the apparent big-hitters in the Conservative Party. Alexander de Pfeffel Johnson was MP for Henley and is now MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, former Attorney General Dominic Grieve represents Beaconsfield, Chancellor of the Exchequer and soon to be failed Tory leadership candidate Philip Hammond is in Runnymede, Theresa May is the MP for Maidenhead, and my own MP, the execrable Steve Baker, recently made a Junior Minister due to his unwavering enthusiasm for Brexit, is here in Wycombe.
This has been the situation in the south-east for a substantial amount of time; the likes of May and Grieve were elected in 1997 and have been comfortably returned in each of the following five general elections which have taken place since. These seats are seen as being about as safe a Conservative seat as it is possible to have, and for good reason, Beaconsfield, for example, has been held by the Conservative Party since the constituency’s formation in 1974 and these seats have therefore been effectively ignored by the Labour Party in the past.
At the 2017 General Election however, something remarkable happened. Beaconsfield saw a 10 point increase in the Labour vote (albeit with a large Tory majority), Henley saw a 7.5 point increase in the Labour vote (again with a large Tory majority) and Wycombe saw the Conservative majority halved by an almost unprecedented 15 point increase in the Labour vote. This is a similar phenomenon to the one which saw long-standing Conservative seats such as Canterbury taken by Corbyn’s Labour. The voters in towns such as High Wycombe have long known that regardless of their own stance, or regardless of their own socio-economic position, the Tories will win no matter how they vote, but as class relations and class definitions in the UK shift, and as Corbynism offers a genuine alternative to non-Tory voters in the South East which was not previously being offered by the managerialist, shiny-faced and shinier-suited post-97 Labour Party, the old truism starts to hold together less well.
Considering these constituencies as a monolith does not help, there are certain areas of the Home Counties which are substantially more rural than others. That rurality has, over the past decade, lent itself to a voting coalition of anti-EU, UKIP voting farming types and extremely wealthy stockbroker belt types and City of London escapees who live in multi-million pound mansions in the Chiltern Hills. However towns such as High Wycombe are beginning to pose a unique challenge to the long-standing Conservative hegemony, and this offers further opportunity to Corbyn’s Labour. High Wycombe and the surrounding areas are home to both extraordinary wealth and huge deprivation living side by side. In the past this was off-set by the comfortable, middle-class existence of a large number of people in the area, benefiting from London wages, decent housing and high-quality education even while other areas of the town, unsurprisingly those largely offering lower cost homes or housing association properties to the town’s sizable non-white communities, were largely neglected by both local government and Mr Baker.
In the 2017 of Late Capitalism this comfortable middle-class is ceasing to exist. Precarity now affects everybody in this town that is not residing in the country mansions in the surrounding villages. The average price of a terraced property in Buckinghamshire is over £300,000 and although the average salary is above the national average, this is offset by the wealth of the richer class and it must be noted that 40% of part time workers and 10% of all workers do not earn the national living wage. It needs to be specified that simply because people are living in substantially wealthier areas of the country than Teeside or South Wales it does not follow that the great mass of people living there are financially secure, comfortable and living without the concerns regarding housing, health and employment that affect people throughout the UK.
Excluding the staggeringly wealthy, people in the south-east require and expect the same things from government as they do elsewhere in the country. We like hospitals, properly funded schools for everybody, functioning infrastructure and houses that people can afford to live in. Under the status quo this is not on offer, and to assume everybody has access to private healthcare or private education is to hang the working classes of the south-east out to dry. Corbynism offers the opportunity for a Britain that centres the needs of community and the people of a prototypical Tory provincial town have responded with immense enthusiasm.
Following the election results there was shock and surprise about constituencies such as Canterbury being won by Labour. It must be recognised that while a town such as Canterbury or High Wycombe has always been won by Conservatives, there is now a challenge to this, there is now something for people to vote for. This is an opportunity for Corbynism and for Labour, a chance to smash decades of Tory hegemony across the supposedly safe seats of the country. We are many and the wealthy are few, their grip on political power is slipping and come the next General Election Labour will be presented with a chance to decimate the Conservative Party and demonstrate the legitimacy of the Corbyn project even in areas long thought to be refuges for the rich.