Labour must harness discontent in the Blue Wall to secure a majority
The general election of 1906 saw a campaign that pitched the ‘free trade shop’ against the ‘protection shop’.
The outcome would prove to be of huge importance – it laid the foundation for Labour to become the main opposition to the Conservative Party and saw some of the political titans of the pre-war period rise to prominence.
Both the Liberals and Conservatives recognised what tariff reform meant. It defined the price of a meal and directly impacted the cost of living. This was at a time of rising discontent with the political system, concerns about war in Europe and anxiety over the long-term direction of society.
Labour in particular can benefit from opening a new front on international trade
International trade might have been spoken about in terms of tariffs and treaties, but it mattered in pounds and pence.
Now, faced with a cost of living crisis that has only been exacerbated by the current government, Labour in particular can benefit from opening a new front on international trade – and quite possibly turn Selby from a once in a generation moment into a harbinger of things to come across the ‘Blue Wall’.
From a potential trade deal with the United States, botched deals with Australia and New Zealand, and the United Kingdom’s entry into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a coalition of opposition of British producers and consumers has emerged – both set to lose out to foreign interests. The Trade Remedies Authority (TRA), ostensibly working to ensure that the UK benefits from these deals, has neither UK producers, nor unions, nor consumer representation. Instead, it is the preserve of economists ideologically aligned with the incumbent government. Hopefully, the next Labour government feels comfortable reforming the TRA so that it can genuinely assess the danger to UK consumers and producers.
On CPTPP, not only have we joined a trading pact that is scarcely relevant to us, we have also opened ourselves up to backsliding on cross-party environmental goals. For example, palm oil has been boycotted by large swathes of the public due to its environmental impact. Yet the Tories have entered into a trade pact where the UK’s voice could be drowned out by governments like Malaysia or potential signatories like Indonesia.
For decades, seats like Selby and Ainsty, and Mid-Bedfordshire, voted Conservative on the proviso a the government would speak up for them. Yet rural and semi-rural seats have been ignored. In Hexham — my hometown – local farmers who have lost faith in the Conservatives and are considering a shift in allegiance could be vital to securing a workable majority for a Labour government. But farmers won’t be enough. Blue Wall seats are a prime home for the kind of quiet activism of the palm oil boycott — wealthier, middle class families who will cross the aisle to buy ethical groceries. If there is one thing I learned growing up in a Blue Wall town, it was that this kind of quiet activism was present among Conservative voters just as much as Labour ones.
For many, the aftermath of the Brexit vote was an introduction to international trade; through petitions and warnings of canned chicken or hormone fed beef crossing the Atlantic. This would have been worrying enough for the Conservatives — but if Labour is able to harness the discontent felt by not only farming communities, but across the Blue Wall, then seats like Mid Beds or Hexham could well join Selby as historic victories for Labour.
International trade could well become a political battleground once again.
Joe Morris, Labour activist standing for selection to be Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate in Hexham
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