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Calls for a second referendum fell on stony ground in the Valleys

The dogwhistle message from hardcore Remainers was heard loud and clear – Leavers were ‘thick and racist,’ writes RHEIAN DAVIES

THURSDAY night physically hurt. How could we lose to a man who hid in a fridge on the eve of election?  

Our dreams of a fairer society were gouged out in one exit poll and the wound was picked at throughout the night as buffoons like Lee Anderson, who said council tenants should live in tents and pick potatoes, became MPs. 

Our pain deepened as the Beast of Bolsover fell and our future hopes were dashed with the defeat of Laura Pidcock. We became grateful as we scraped by in once safe seats in the north of England.

Two narratives emerged from this defeat: the result was down to Brexit or we were too left-wing with a terrible leader, the latter leading to the idea that we need to move to the centre again, with a centrist leader like Keir Starmer. 

It is more complex than that and we need to explore why if we are to win in our traditional heartlands again, retain our London base and take seats off the Tories and nationalists.

I have lived in west London for 23 years and I have loved living in what seemed to me the middle of the world. 

I have also lived in north-west England, where I trained as a nurse. Later I was lucky enough to requalify as a legal aid solicitor.  

However, I was born and bred in one of our heartlands, the south Wales Valleys. My experiences there were different from friends in London, even if we were the same age, class and gender. 

There were simply no expectations of a girl of my class especially as my valley was stripped of the well-paid employment that came from coal and heavy industry.  

New Labour never replaced those jobs. The neoliberal model of service-led industry didn’t work for us — funnily enough no international financial centre sprung up in the Valleys.  

In the borough of Caerphilly where I was born, 60 per cent of adults are registered as disabled, partly a hangover from the mining industry but also an indication that poverty has become endemic and intergenerational.

The EU did put money into Wales in a number of tourist and cultural attractions and also investments in roads.  

Those roads, however, did not take us back to the good jobs that we had lost. I’ve been horrified as the generation before me ended their working lives on crappy minimum wage jobs, with zero-hours contracts becoming the norm. 

Telling us that the EU was a workers’ paradise and that we could have gap years in 27 different countries fell on stony ground. 

At a basic level the vote was a chance to kick the Establishment. Remain lost the argument in south Wales and elsewhere.  

I have 30 first cousins and out of them, three (including me) voted Remain. None of my older relatives did. 

Many in our party still supported Remain feverishly. In 2017 however, we stood on a radical manifesto and with Jeremy Corbyn as leader, but we promised to respect the referendum and piled on the most votes since World War II. 

The Remain voices grew more insistent from the right of our party and also — which we should admit — from the left with figures such as John McDonnell pushing for a second referendum. 

The dogwhistle message from hardcore Remainers was heard loud and clear. Leavers were “thick and racist,” “didn’t know what they were voting for” and then the delusional “everyone has changed their mind.” 

The language was derisive, saying: “We want a people’s vote” — who did they think voted last time, animals? 

The message back was that the metropolitan elite only respect democracy when they win. In my home town of Blackwood stands a 60-foot statue on Chartists’ Bridge leading to Chartists’ Way. The statue is not of a famous hero but a man on the march.  

Working-class men from my town were murdered by an English army when they campaigned for the right to take part in elections. 

Their descendants were told their vote didn’t count and that they simply didn’t understand that a second referendum meant “more democracy.”

Once we adopted the second referendum position, I tried to sell the idea to them — it went down like a bucket of cold sick. 

“I’ve already voted and won!” came back the reply. They saw it for what it was — a circuitous route to stop Brexit. 

My uncle, a former NUM steward, spoiled his ballot paper rather than vote for his Remain-advocating MP. We offered our Leave voters a “peoples’ vote” and they gave us one back. 

Places like the south Wales Valleys gave birth to the most progressive movement on Earth but have now enabled the most reactionary Tory government for decades. 

To win our heartlands back, our next party leader must relate to the people of south Wales and people like them. Keir Starmer isn’t it. We will not win stuck in the middle with EU.

Over the next few years we must democratise our party and stop the control freakery we saw over selections this year, and the unions need to get behind us on this. 

No more parachuting in favoured Oxbridge graduates and businessmen looking for the main chance. Socialism isn’t something you hand out like charity, we need to be the voice of the many, not just for the many. 

Many Labour councillors are less than inspirational socialists and some (rightly or wrongly) are seen as on the side of developers ruining our communities.  

We need to build our activists’ base. Many heartland CLPs are still small. Islwyn, where I first joined the party, has only 500 members. Its council leader has just stood down amid allegations of corruption.  

Labour members must be able to choose the council leader and all key positions to stop the pernicious hand of patronage taking hold, as so often happens. 

Our young people have been out on the streets begging for us to do something about climate change. 

The McStrike activists have spearheaded a new movement. Young people were engaged in this election and we must allow those who come through to be Labour representatives at a local and national level.  

We need more candidates like Ali Milani in Uxbridge, who did not flinch from taking on Johnson at the age of 25, and Nadia Whithome, who at 23 is now the Labour MP for Nottingham East, saying she will take a workers’ wage until the likes of nurses and teachers are decently paid too. 

We are battered but none of the people I knocked on doors with this last six weeks have dropped their belief that a decent society is possible. We will dust ourselves down, rebuild our energy and fight for it from the left.

Rheian Davies is a legal aid lawyer and CLP rep on the London Labour Party Regional Executive (PC).


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