Investment outside of London is to be welcomed, but we cannot let the country forget that millions of Londoners are struggling too
So there we have it: class is back.
Last week’s general election will be remembered as the moment where the working classes living in the Midlands and the North helped turn the country blue, leaving metropolitan liberals in their wake. Even if the reams of analysis that emerge over the coming months proves this narrative to be untrue, it has already taken root.
This means we can say with some certainty that the Conservative government will be investing heavily in the Midlands and the North. This is to be welcomed - tackling regional imbalances will help the whole country, and might help reduce the strain on London’s infrastructure, most notably its housing stock. But we are a long way from this.
There is no guarantee that large amounts of investment will lead to strong, sustainable regional economies. New Labour responded to de-industrialisation by attracting inward investment in the form of low-paid service sector jobs that were vulnerable to offshoring. Their multi-billion pound regeneration programmes were often retail led, making them vulnerable to changing consumer trends. Employment in areas with a weak private sector was shored up by a larger public sector, which was decimated by political decisions.
As the eye of Government shifts north, it is clear that London will, rhetorically at least, be thrown under a bus.
It is the responsibility of organisations like ours to support investment in areas outside London, whilst ensuring that the country does not forget that millions of Londoners are struggling to make ends meet.
What next? Six things to ponder
- Renewed interest in addressing the interests of working class voters should not be treated as some kind of proxy for tackling poverty.
The working class are not a homogenous group and will be as divided as anyone over issues like working age benefits, as the 2010-15 government showed with their deployment of a ruthless 'strivers and skivers' narrative to justify cuts to benefits.
- The new coalitions of voters that have coalesced around the Conservatives and Labour are fragile.
Both parties will still need to find ways to bridge the metropolitan liberal and the traditional working class. Hopefully this will mean less typecasting of Londoners as ‘elites’.
- Where do working class ethnic minorities fit in?
The conceptualisation of the Midlands and Northern working class voter feels very much like a proxy for white working class. I grew up in a working class household in a West Midlands town: the ’traditional working class’ label never felt like it included people like me. This brilliant report by the Runnymede Trust suggests that others probably feel the same.
- Narratives around income and wealth inequality were central to the debate put forward by progressives on the left to support the case for tax and redistribution.
But I am not sure the conversations around high pay reached any kind of consensus. We’ll release some research on this in early 2020, but there needs to be some reflection on how this debate moves forwards.
- We are going to get a new immigration system that ends freedom of movement and prioritises high-skilled immigration.
This could be the one consequence of the election that has the most profound impact on London.
I am pretty sure most people want to now forget about politics and Boris Johnson’s sizeable majority will make that much easier for them to do. Mobilising people to take action against social injustice, or getting the public’s attention to try and shift attitudes, is probably going to get more difficult. But there is hope. If there is significant devolution to regions/cities/local government, it could be an opportunity to galvanise civic participation at a local level.