Whoever came up with the line that makes the title of this blog did well. Labour’s return to power may well be seen to start with this first by-election victory against the Tories in 15 years.
In some ways the constituency of Corby and east Northants represents a microcosm of England. Equally divided, or dithering, between Labour and Conservative, this seat sums up the country.
And so as Andy Sawford, Ed Miliband and the rest of the Labour Party set off from Corby to Number 10 in Downing Street they would do well to have a look around the landscape as they travel.
They’ll only have to step a little way out of Corby town centre to find themselves in Tory-land again. The countryside is Tory. That means that although the votes are fairly equally divided in the constituency of Corby and east Northants, as in England as a whole, the Labour vote is concentrated in the towns (like Corby itself) just as is the English political map as a whole.
It’s the same in the USA – the Republicans take the south and mid-West whereas the Democrats get most of their votes from the cities of the coasts. What Corby is to the English Parliament, Columbus Ohio is to the USA. Ohio is a swing state where the Democrats live in the towns and the Republicans live out of them. Just the same as Corby and east Northants.
It’s easy in a way to see why this is, but difficult too. Yes farmers vote for the Right – but hardly anybody is a farmer so that’s not really it. Yes the rich live in nice houses in the country and vote for the Right, and the Left can’t afford such places or the travel from them to their jobs and live in the towns. But that’s not really it either is it?
Why is it that the values of Left and Right are reflected so clearly in geography?
As a Labour voter I am pained by how out of touch the Labour Party is with rural issues – public transport, internet access, farming, wildlife and the landscape. And I wish I would hear more sense on these issues from Labour. Why isn’t Labour doing better in the countryside – it can’t be that country people don’t want equality, fairness and a One Nation England and UK?
I am frustrated by Labour’s poor performance over the years on many of the issues that are important to me. Yes the last Labour government had many great environmental achievements (eg refusing commercial approval for particular GM crops, general progress with Environmental Stewardship, using the fate of wild bird populations as a sustainable development indicator, banning the use of lead gunshot over wetlands, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 and, probably above all of those, the Climate Change Act 2008) but there were plenty of failures too (replacing set-aside with nothing of value, allowing more cormorants to be culled, letting species conservation fall down the list of government priorities, the NERC Act 2006, failure to implement the Water Framework Directive with any force). Both lists could be lengthened considerably.
Don’t worry Ed – you’ll get my vote anyway because there is more to life than the countryside and the people who live in it. But – there is a lot more to life than cities too. We watermelonsneed a bit of encouragement too.
So I hope that the Labour Party is developing its thoughts on rural issues. A One Nation party isn’t a ‘One Nation but only if you live in towns Party’.
Yes the road to 10 Downing Street goes through Corby but it winds its way through an awful lot of countryside before it gets to its final destination.
And the offer is certainly open to Mary Creagh, Ed Miliband or any other Labour politician to put the case for what Labour offers the rural electorate but also the unenfranchised wildlife that still needs help.