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Strategic Choices

Image Credit: City of Sanctuary, Sussex University STAR, Refugee Support Europe Brighton and Hove

This section explores three of the key strategic dilemmas that strategists and funders alike face when considering when and how to focus their resources, energy and attention. Geography – what are the right locations to invest in and support for maximum impact? Audiences, Activists and Messages – who are we speaking to, whose power are we building and how are we speaking to people? And finally strategic operational questions about our approach to time and money.


The new political battlegrounds

The political map of the UK has been transformed since Brexit, and arguably by it. Below we take a look at the three electoral ‘battlegrounds’ that will shape the next General Election and, therefore, how parties and decision makers are likely to behave before and after it. These three constellations of parliamentary constituencies are where the parties will concentrate their opinion research, and where media outlets will focus their political reporting. Whether rights and justice organisations should concentrate their organising strategies on these battlegrounds or go elsewhere on other rationales (that organising resources should be spent organising the most marginalised people, for example, or that campaigning energy is higher elsewhere) is not for us to determine. These maps, therefore, are presented purely as a guide to where resources would go if the primary concern was to organise in those places whose residents are likely to have outsized political power in the coming years.

The Red Wall

Currently the most talked about in terms of the battlegrounds is the Red Wall. Essentially, the Red Wall is a group of constituency seats in England and Wales that switched from Labour to Conservative between the 2017 and 2019 General Elections.

Credit: James Kanagasooriam & Elizabeth Simon
Credit: Wikipedia

The things that these seats have in common is that they voted to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum, they are older and have fewer graduates in their population. People from these communities that go to university on the whole don’t return. These communities have high rates of home ownership and car ownership. They were historically seen as safe Labour seats but have been moving away from the Labour Party for some time. Most finally voted in Conservative MPs in 2019.

The Blue Wall

In his modelling of The Blue Wall, Steve Akehurst of the Global Strategic Communications Council described the Blue Wall as the 41 seats held by the Conservatives since 2010 with a majority below 10,000, and where either Labour or the Liberal Democrats outperformed their national swing against the Conservatives in both 2017 and 2019.  These seats are mostly suburban areas in England, often on the outskirts of cities or large urban areas.  Akehurst describes how these are a set of seats that are likely to be really important at the next election but currently aren’t getting the attention that they deserve from political commentators.  He predicts that we will be able to say more about the shifts happening across these seats once the latest census data is available.

Credit: Steve Akehurst

Scotland – The Yellow Belt

In his blog post An absolute (yellow) belter, Patrick English explores what is going on with the Scottish political map and the potential vulnerability of the SNP as we head to the next general election. Describing Scotland as ‘electorally volatile’, English highlights that 22 of the 59 constituencies are currently held with majorities under 10% and therefore requiring just a five-point swing to change hands.  He explores two scenarios, one where pro-union, anti-independence parties could make gains across this ‘yellow belt’ and another scenario where the SNP could make further gains, leading us closer to a second independence referendum.  

English asserts “Given how many seats are ‘up for grabs’ north of the border, not enough attention is being paid to what could potentially be a crucial set of constituencies at the next election”.

Credit: Patrick English

Questions of geography as outlined in the Red Wall, Blue Wall and Yellow Belt analysis above can’t be the only determining factor when thinking about which locations are wise to invest in.  A facilitated discussion with campaign strategists from across the climate justice, refugee, and international development sectors came up with a set of guiding questions that can enhance geographic targeting:

  • Is the MP influenceable by actions taken in their constituency and, when influenced, are they able to have any impact locally, nationally or internationally? 
  • What existing networks are there in the local area?  Is it possible to build a base and are there existing networks, organisations or institutions in this community that can be built out from, to ensure power building in the long term?
  • What data do we have on the local area that identifies shifts in demographics (i.e. census data) that reflects that this could be an area of emerging power?
  • What is the media interest in this area? Will it have outsized influence in the debate?
  • What do we know about civic participation and engagement rates in this local area? 

There is also a question for everyone in social change to consider around how we challenge the inherent London/South East bias currently baked into many approaches when organisations like RECLAIM and Hope for the Future are showing what is possible when power is built in other places.

Hard ground or fertile ground? 

There are certain areas of the country that have higher levels of civic participation and activism in them than in others. Bluntly, more activism is taking place in cities than towns.  These places also tend to also have a high density of progressive activists (see section 7), and contain people who are more likely to sign petitions, especially petitions on social justice and human rights issues.  

During the process of doing this research various people raised this as a strategic dilemma they were wrestling with right now.  Should they go big in the places where they have fertile ground, in the areas that have a high propensity to support their issues, and a high propensity to act?  This certainly makes for good metrics and helps to meet KPIs as they are currently set, but it is not necessarily the most effective way to build power and win change.

Thinking back to the question of geography, one part of the country where this dilemma currently shows up is the Red Wall, as shown on the charts below. The Red Wall is highly likely to have strong political salience over the next 10 years, but across the Red Wall are a range of towns where support for our issues isn’t currently strong and the propensity to take action is much lower.

Credit: Opinium

Credit: Opinium