The Real Realignment
Understanding the key voter groups that will decide the next election
The “red wall” has taken on a whole set of mythic properties in British political discourse. This group of seats, largely in the North and Midlands and held by Labour for many years, mostly fell to the Tories in 2019. There is a widespread belief that this was a fundamental realignment in British politics with working class Brexit voters flocking to a socially conservative Tory party. Various Tory MPs and right-wing columnists fondly imagine an army of salt-of-the-earth workers backing their agenda against the out-of-touch liberal elites.
A new report by Professor Jane Green and Roosmarijn de Geus sets out what’s really been going on. Essentially, since Brexit the Tories are doing even better than before amongst older homeowners. Many of these voters do consider themselves working-class, and often have relatively low incomes, but critically they are economically secure because they own property and have few outgoings.
This shouldn’t be surprising. When analyst James Kanagasooriam identified the “red wall” seats before the 2019 election he was looking for constituencies where the demographics were inherently Tory but the seat had stayed Labour out of habit. The point was not that a totally different type of person was deciding to vote for the Conservatives. Instead Brexit had broken historical links to the Labour party that had held people back from voting Tory. As he put it at the time “the history of an area matters – the leave voting 55yr old plumber living in a detached house is more likely to vote Tory in Bournemouth than Wigan, even on the same salary.”
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