You have heard the frequent lament. Labour is a party of the metropolitan middle classes, of Islington dinner parties, and of scorn for the flag of St. George. Indeed, at one point two years ago, it was estimated that as much as 40% of Labour’s membership lived in London.
Now Labour Vision understands that figures due to be released by Labour in November show that the party’s membership is far more evenly distributed around the country. Sources on Labour’s National Executive Committee suggest that this is partly why Labour outperformed expectations in this year’s general election, putting in remarkable performances in places as varied as Cornwall, Peterborough and Thurrock.
When these figures are made official, there will be two immediate and positive conclusions to draw. First, Labour will no longer need to rely so heavily on its London-based membership to campaign across the country. Second, the party’s commitments may start to move beyond the concerns of the nation’s urban centres and towards addressing the hopes and fears of people living in deindustrialised Britain.
It is a truism of British politics that general elections are won not in the big cities or the countryside, but in the small and medium-sized towns that swing between Tory and Labour. These are the places that have for so long been lacking in thriving constituency Labour parties. It should surely come as no surprise, therefore, that Labour has in recent years become increasingly associated with metropolitan interests.
This tend towards a more even membership spread ties in neatly with the efforts of the English Labour Network, who have set out their early intent to win for Labour a majority of seats in England in order to give the party the platform to govern across the country. You can see the first two interviews I have conducted on their behalf here.
This more equitable composition of the Labour membership will all be for nothing, however, if the party fails to press home the case for increased devolution. We have seen two hung parliaments in the last three general elections, and if this proves one thing above all it is that our democratic system as it stands is incapable of delivering the strong and stable government our country needs.
Instead the nation needs genuine and proper devolution, the like of which has been successfully implemented in Spain and Italy – countries which were once seemingly ungovernable and on the verge of breaking up – but which are now more cohesive than they have been for some time. Regional assemblies, reflecting areas people actually identify with (not arbitrary fiefdoms), are the order of the day.
It is to be hoped that the Labour membership itself, reaching into communities across the country as it now does, will be able to take the initiative in calling for this democratic revolution.