The divisions exposed by the EU Referendum were stark. In cities, younger middle-class voters came out overwhelmingly for remain while in nearby towns and villages older, working-class voters turned out in similarly large numbers to leave.
We are divided by more than just attitudes to Brexit. Over the last 40 years, as our towns have aged and our cities have grown younger, social attitudes on immigration, social security and civil rights have diverged. Steadily but increasingly there are now two Englands that sit unhappily side by side.
The electoral challenge this poses for Labour is formidable. How to reunite these two groups with increasingly divergent views, values and priorities? The road to power relies on winning the liberal, cosmopolitan cities and the traditional working-class towns, where the frustration given voice by Brexit was evident, the vote a clear rejection of the status quo.
In truth we’d had warning signs for years. The declining turnout and dramatic rise in support for UKIP should have been a wake-up call. Elections in 2017 and 2018 turned class politics on its head: in many of the towns hit hardest by austerity – the key battleground for the next General Election – the Tories are gaining ground. This is not the only danger.
This report clearly maps the difference between areas that have benefitted most from globalisation, and those which have lost out with the decline of industry and the changing nature of work. The conditions around us have a big impact on our attitudes, and this report highlights how the difficulties people face in their own lives, if these struggles are ignored, can become manifest through hate.
The warning, issued starkly by Hope Not Hate in Fear, Hope and Loss, is that a widespread sense of hopelessness provides fertile ground for the far right.
But there are grounds for optimism. Consider what unites an area like Tottenham – young, socially liberal, diverse, remain voting – with a town like Wigan, with a more homogenous, older population that came out overwhelmingly for leave? The answer is Labour. For all the division, our values are the common ground on which a shared future can be built and our electoral dilemma central to Britain’s future success.
And the recent National Conversation on immigration published by Hope Not Hate and British Future showed that across the divide there is a sensible, committed majority in Britain whose concern for decency, humanity, kindness and fairness echoes strongly. They not only demand, but deserve, a greater say in the future of their country and the power to build the ambitious, inclusive communities they long for.
Our task is to match their ambition with a vision for every part of the UK that delivers on the priorities in those communities. This is the ground on which Labour must stake out the future.
Lisa Nandy MP
Member of Parliament for Wigan