Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh has said that UK voters are “absolutely sick to death” of the culture wars and of the Conservative government’s “attempts to divide”. She was speaking today (28 June) at the New Statesman’s Politics Live conference.
Haigh said the recent Wakefield by-election, where Labour won the previously Conservative-held seat, demonstrated the need for the party to focus on the cost-of-living crisis and the economy. She was talking during a panel discussion on the Red Wall and what both the main parties need to do to keep or gain seats in former Labour heartlands.
As well as refusing to engage with culture wars, Haigh emphasised the need for the party to focus on producing a coherent economic plan to tackle the “biggest crash in living standards on record”, and to harness the popularity of Labour mayors such as Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester and Tracy Brabin in West Yorkshire.
Her comments echoed those made by the Labour leader Keir Starmer in the previous session at the same event, where he said: “I can tell you now the next election is going to be fought on the economy. The cost-of-living crisis is causing such hardship for so many people. We have to get the economy growing.”
Haigh pointed to the government’s Rwanda deportation programme, as well as its position on strikes, Brexit and the Northern Ireland protocol (which puts a trade border between Britain and Northern Ireland) as examples of the culture war policies that Labour, and the public, could now identify as “games”.
In response, Antony Higginbotham, the Conservative Party vice-chair for levelling up, retorted that the Rwanda plan was a “workable policy” in response to a genuine concern of the electorate, one raised during the Wakefield by-election.
Higginbotham’s comments elicited laughter from the audience, including an attendee who heckled Higginbotham by calling the policy a “crass example of your addled racism”.
The Tory vice-chair denied the claim of racism and described the policy as a “legitimate way for the government to address [the] issue”.