Yes, representation in politics is important. But more than that, Labour's lost voters deserve a leader who understands that the North isn't one homogenous land of flat-caps and piesby Rik Worth / January 4, 2020 / Leave a comment
Some of them have publicly thrown their hat into the ring, and some haven’t yet; but many of us already know where we’d like them to be from.
This election has been framed as a Labour failure rather than a Tory success and prompted critics—including myself—to call for the next Labour leader to be northern.
This idea has faced fair criticism from northern and southern journalists alike, who point out despite representation being good, there is a condescending element to this approach—and besides, being from London is one of the few things not portrayed as a failing of Jeremy Corbyn. These are both true. Obviously, Northerners won’t just vote for the first candidate who calls them “duck” and, though I may be banished from the north for admitting this, there is nothing inherently wrong with being from “that London.”
But here is the issue: for whatever reason, Corbyn was unable to sell his ideas to the north. Winning elections requires you to sell your program for government to people and that’s easier if people like you. In that sense, it’s as much about selling the candidates as it is the policies.
Psychologically, we’re all predisposed to prefer people with similar accents, the same background and a similar upbringing. It’s a series of observable principles known as “unconscious bias.” This means Northerners, at least at a surface level, without knowing people or their policies intimately, prefer people from the North. It’s our “in-group,” to use the technical term.
Now, this doesn’t mean we automatically vote for people like us, but if it were to come down to it, it makes them a lot more palatable. It’s not so much condescending to think Northerners will vote for a Northern leader—rather, it’s cynical and calculating. And for good reason: don’t forget, Bury North, a Conservative gain in Greater Manchester, had the tightest margin in England of only 105 votes. In fact, eight of the 29 seats with a margin of less than a thousand votes where in the north.
Could a more likeable candidate have flipped non-voters, or tempered Tory votes, here? You have to accept that as a possibility. If so, why wouldn’t Labour members and supporters…