If there is anything that both Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer must accept, as leaders of their respective parties, it is that taking voters for granted is a dangerous game. The Brexit referendum of 2016, which exposed stark divides across the United Kingdom and across the voter bases of all political parties, will leave a shadow across British politics for some time yet.
The victory of the Leave campaign was capitalised on by the Prime Minister in 2019, when he won a strong majority on the campaign phrase ‘Get Brexit Done.’ One question that the Tories must answer is whether they can maintain the advantages they have enjoyed in the so-called ‘Red Wall’, given to them by their commitment to Brexit, whilst keeping their voters in leafy, suburban and Remain-leaning shires on their side.
The 2019 general election is a perfect case-study of the Prime Minister successfully maintaining his new electoral coalition of traditional Conservatives, and former Labour voters who supported Leave. He won a majority of 80 on the backs of seats close to home for us in Durham. Four of the seven constituencies in County Durham are now Conservative. MPs with a blue rosette now represent areas that had only ever been Labour.
Crucially, the Conservatives look to be on course to maintain their increased presence in parts of the North East. The local elections earlier this year provide a plethora of examples for this phenomenon. Durham County Council is no longer controlled by Labour for the first time since its founding in 1919, whilst the number of Conservative councillors more than doubled. Additionally, the Hartlepool by-election saw Labour cede control of another heavily Brexit-voting constituency to the Tories.
Taken in isolation, these trends are a disaster for anyone who wants the Conservatives out of government, especially given Labour only gained one seat overall in 2019. For those who favour a left-wing, progressive government, it would appear that their time in the political wilderness is set to continue. However, there are signs that the Tories are also facing some problems in areas that were once firmly blue at the ballot box.
Whilst the Conservatives managed a net gain of 48 seats in 2019, this masks a pattern seen in several important seats for the Conservatives in the south-east of England. Take Dominic Raab’s constituency in Esher and Walton, which has been Tory since 1910. The Foreign Secretary was elected in 2010 with a majority of over 18,000, however, this has now been cut to less than 3,000. It would be a huge mistake for the Tories not to be concerned about losing in these areas.
Seats such as Raab’s represent well the disillusioned Tory Remainer demographic. The Chesham and Amersham by-election highlighted how this Remainer rebellion, coupled with anger over proposed changes to planning reform in England, could be disastrous for the Tories. The seat, Conservative since its creation, was lost heavily to the Liberal Democrats.
A recent YouGov poll of 53 ‘Blue Wall’ seats, which all voted Remain and have a higher-than-average concentration of university degree holders, revealed that the Tories could lose up to 16 of those constituencies to either Labour or the Lib Dems. Luckily for the Prime Minister, there are three years until another general election. That is plenty of time in politics. However, just like Brexit, and the cultural issues it awakened, allowed him to romp to victory with the largest Conservative majority since the days of Mrs Thatcher, it could also cost him dear by losing him waves of voters that would once vote for anything Tory.
Image: David Holt via Wikimedia Commons