I was one of the many Labour activists to weep a little inside when the Copeland by election result was declared in the early hours of Friday morning. A seat we have held since 1935. Although this may be a sign of a wider issue present within the Labour Party currently, it can also be attributed to a long-standing oversight by the party for many years; the rural vote.
There was also another by election last Thursday, down in the South Hams District Council, with Dave Trigger as our candidate. From my social media observation, he seemed like a solid local candidate, with charisma and a passion for the local area to boot. He ended up with 10.7% of the vote. Although to my knowledge we’ve never won this area, it’s still a glaring example of how poorly the Labour Party fares in rural communities.
The issue is more pronounced with Copeland, one of the few rural seats that we have traditionally held as a party, and my home constituency of Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, which was formerly a consistently Labour seat but has for some time now gone to Plaid Cymru. Losing areas like this is a trend that is on-going for many years, with no signs of stopping. If the Labour Party wishes to govern once again, and win a majority in Parliament, we must speak to the rural voter and regain their trust.
It would be an oversight if I declared that we take absolutely no interest; for the 2015 General Election we created a Rural Manifesto, which championed many key issues facing communities like mine, such as tackling low pay in agriculture, affordable housing in rural areas and broadband access. All of which were well placed policies by Maria Eagle MP – I must commend her work. A family member of mine still had dial-up internet, until two to three years ago, to put the issue in context.
But I put the question to you, had you even heard of it? I asked the same question to some politically active friends of mine, who were out every day campaigning for the Labour Party during the 2015 General Election, and none of them had. I understand this is an incredibly unscientific method of measuring this, but it echoes a persistent feeling that I’ve had during my time active within the Party.
We claim to be the Party that stands up for the working class, yet we’re failing these communities. West Wales was deemed not only the poorest region of the United Kingdom, but also of the entirety of Northern Europe, by Eurostat, the data agency of the European Union. Areas such as mine should be natural Labour voters, yet we struggle greatly.
Until we as a Party pay heed to the need of the rural communities and start to win their trust back by fighting their corner and publicising our policies to improve the situation within their communities, I highly doubt our prospects of winning a General Election and we’re likely to see the Copeland result repeated again and again.