A former Labour cabinet minister has warned that voters in Southern England do not think Labour understands them. The Huffington Post reports that John Denham, said the party is “not on the agenda for most southern voters” and that his party had to stop talking up the “North/South divide”.
Denham’s comments will come as a blow to the Labour leadership, as the Former Secretary of state for Local Government was one of the earliest supporters of Ed Miliband.
He went on to say that the Labour party had made a “complete hash” of its response to UKIP and that it was a mistake to accuse Nigel Farage of racism. Comments that echo Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls view that branding anti-immigration voters as racist is damaging for a party that wants to attract working class support.
Mr Denham said: “Look at the way in which the country is changing socially and economically, it is becoming more like the South and less like the North… We have got to do better because otherwise we will do worse.”
“If Labour can’t crack the problem of extending its base in southern England it is pretty likely, as the cultural history of voting in a particular way gradually fades with the generations, then we won’t actually win the seats in the North that we have won previously.
“We can’t pretend that anyone is even dreaming about getting the number of [southern] seats we had in 1997 in the landslide.
“The first thing Labour has got to do, we have to stop comparing the South to everywhere else. Despite my best efforts many of my party colleagues insist on talking about a North/South divide. It’s one of the problems we have in winning support for Labour in the South.”
Denham’s comments came in speech at the London School of Economics (LSE). This is not the first time that he has made similar comments but they will still be used by the Conservatives as evidence of disquiet on the Labour benches.
In the Blair landslide of 1997 the Labour Party got 50 seats in Southern England, but today only has 10. Denham is one of the few survivors, representing Southampton Itchen. Ed Miliband is perceived to have dragged Labour to the left and made it easier for the Conservatives in their Southern heartland.