Roger Ratcliffe on the
political catchphrase that
makes him see red

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I’ve grown to hate two words. Just hearing them has the same nerve-jangling effect on me as a knife being scraped against a glass bottle.

They are short words. One has three letters, the other four. The first is a word that can be used to describe the most stunning, deepest sunsets, the sort that delight shepherds and the kind I recently witnessed in Scotland, where, incidentally, these two words have never been introduced to each other. The second word features in the name of the ancient structure it was necessary for me to drive past on my way north.

So why do I hate the term Red Wall? What makes those words so unbearable for me? How did I come to consider them swear words?

Because they distil the biggest problem in UK politics, and look like casting a dark shadow over us for years to come. Because they will forever remind us of the most disgraced prime minister in history. And because those two words have now poisoned even the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer.

You don’t need a reminder from me that they describe those parliamentary constituencies – mostly in the North and Midlands – which historically elected Labour MPs but in 2019 put Johnson in Downing Street with disastrous consequences. It annoys me that outside the North many believe we are all Red Wallers up here, a fact underlined when a few months ago an old friend in London I hadn’t seen for years asked if I live in “one of those Red Wall seats”? (I don’t).

But back to Starmer. The week Johnson was shown the door, Starmer ruled out a future Labour government rejoining the EU. There wasn’t a pledge to consider going back into the single market, which would be so beneficial for jobs and businesses. Nor was he interested in restoring freedom of movement, the lack of which is now forcing up food prices because foreign labour forces are not allowed into the country.

So what we now have is a Labour leader in favour of a hard Brexit, trotting out the slogan “Make Brexit Work” despite Brexit being catastrophic for the UK. Just two weeks ago a joint report by the Resolution Foundation and London School of Economics said it will leave the country poorer in future decades. Yet Starmer is happy with that. Starmer is committing Labour to a policy that will perpetuate the lies about EU membership told by the greatest liar in UK politics.

He’s doing it because he feels imprisoned by those Red Walls. He’s convinced Labour won’t win an election unless he panders to the xenophobia that I believe fuelled the support for Brexit and thengave Johnson a stonking majority.We are all populists now, Starmeris saying. Like those lamentableTory leadership hopefuls, he is trying to look Brexitier than thou. But as evidence of the Brexitdisaster continues to mount, that position is not sustainable. And Labour’s win in the Wakefield by-election suggests those Red Walls are ready to be taken back.

The week the Conservative cabinet finally grew backbones I should have felt elated, but Starmer made any celebration impossible. The only way forward is to abandon everything The Liar touched. Labour needs to unite with the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the SNP, put honesty back into politics and Get Brexit Undone.

Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe

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