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Tamworth is Labour’s route back to Middle England

Starmer must engage with voters’ economic insecurities and value their feelings of Englishness. Credit: Getty

September 7, 2023 - 4:15pm

With the groping-induced resignation of Conservative MP Chris Pincher from the House of Commons, the Staffordshire seat of Tamworth will be the latest to play host to an intriguing by-election, scheduled for early next month.

Despite the Tories holding a majority of nearly 20,000 votes in this Brexit-voting constituency in the provincial West Midlands, this also presents a golden opportunity for Labour to strike another significant blow ahead of the next general election. While it would be a considerable hill to climb, it is not insurmountable — with Labour winning the seat as recently as the 2005 general election. 

A majority of Tamworth residents are feeling the cost-of-living pinch, and worry about affording necessities. Possessing a culturally conservative mainstream, around six in ten voters there believe that the level of immigration is too high and that it is a good thing Britain has a monarchy. 

While the stubbornly high cost of living — especially food prices — is “safe” ground on which Labour can compete with the Tories, the party must also engage with matters of identity and culture. Indeed, this is the argument made in a new report jointly published by British Future and Labour Together on how a prospective government led by Sir Keir Starmer can bridge cultural divides — stressing that no progressive party has won an election without “first embracing the symbols of the country they aspire to lead”.

The Tamworth by-election offers a chance for Labour to reconnect with Middle England. According to the 2021 Census, residents in Tamworth were more likely than the rest of the country to exclusively label themselves as “English” in regards to national identity. In the most recent census, “British” was moved to the response option at the top of the form, perhaps influencing how people self-identified, yet even with this change 22% of Tamworth constituents still reported an English-only national identification, compared to a nationwide figure of 14%. 

Tamworth holds a significant place in English history as the principal centre of royal power in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia in the eighth and ninth centuries before the unification of 927 AD under Æthelstan. More recently, it has been commonly associated with Sir Robert Peel. One of the UK’s most influential prime ministers and widely regarded as the godfather of modern policing in England, he served as its MP for two decades from 1830 to 1850.

Labour has for some years struggled to recognise the importance to many of English pride — at times even mocking the idea. Think back to 2014, when Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry tweeted out a photo of a house in Rochester, Kent draped in English flags with a white van in the drive. Journalist Paul Mason, who continues to look for a seat in which he can run as a Labour candidate in the next general election, once wrote in the Guardian that he didn’t want to be English and that “any attempt to create an English identity will fail.” 

Starmer’s party must reject these attitudes to make headway in English provincial towns that have previously made up its support base. If Labour can both engage with voters’ economic insecurities and value their cultural feelings of Englishness, then it may win Tamworth in the forthcoming by-election. 

Should this happen, it would show how far the Labour Party has come in the post-Corbyn era on matters of English identity, national heritage, and traditional civic pride.


Dr Rakib Ehsan is a researcher specialising in British ethnic minority socio-political attitudes, with a particular focus on the effects of social integration and intergroup relations.

 

rakibehsan

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Nick Gilbert
Nick Gilbert
8 months ago

Wasn’t Tamworth also one of those towns that large scale grooming of vulnerable young girls took place and the local authorities, run by Labour brushed it under the carpet?

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
8 months ago

Who will win? Labour?, Conservatives? Lib Dems? Greens? Does it really matter? Voters should know that the whole Westminster shower couldn’t really give knats p**s about the people they represent. For instance why is Sunak supporting a bill that will criminalise ordinary home owners who don’t comply with Energy Efficiency regulations. Yes, up to a year in prison and or a ÂŁ15,000 fine if you don’t fit a heat pump or fit smart appliances so they can monitor your usage. The days of Democracy are over and we are left with authoritarian rule. Our so called MP’s have lost the plot. So whoever gets in, it will be business as usual

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
8 months ago

Like P Mason, most of middle England wants to be European rather than English and their unspoken contract with Keir Starmer’s Labour Party is that Rachel Reeves will find a way to return them to the EU.

Michael Davis
Michael Davis
8 months ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

No they dont

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
8 months ago
Reply to  Michael Davis

Just because the so-called Red Wall is composed of home-owners doesn’t mean that culturally they identify as middle class.

Philip Stott
Philip Stott
8 months ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

By that logic the 52% that voted out were urban metropolitans.
You may want to think this one through 😉

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
8 months ago
Reply to  Philip Stott

The urban metropolitans who voted Remain are precisely those whom endless analytical tomes characterise as the ‘woke’ graduate class who back enlightened European federalism against the unwashed, ignorant Leave hordes of the provinces.