It was one moment. A moment that symbolised a seachange in Britain’s future. I sat on the edge of a friend’s couch in Clapham shaking as the seconds counted down to 22:00. As Huw Edwards announced the result of the exit poll we erupted with delight; Brexit had changed Britain forever. From that point onwards the road to independence seemed irreversible.
However, amidst that euphoric moment something else had changed in Britain. The previously entrenched political divisions of the United Kingdom had finally eroded and a new dividing line had been forged. Results from across the Labour-heartlands, like in Darlington and Delyn, confirmed this.
The Brexit Party prevented the Tories from gaining an estimated 30 additional seats from the Labour Party.
What is often forgotten is the impact of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. I decided to use my lockdown to research what the real impact of the Brexit Party was last December. I found that, despite contention to the contrary by Farage, the Brexit Party prevented the Tories from an even more profound redrawing of the electoral map. In fact, based on electoral results and opinion polls, I estimated that the Brexit Party prevented the Tories from gaining an additional 30 seats from the Labour Party.
I found that in the Dudley North, Gateshead and Liverpool Walton, three Leave-voting, Labour heartland seats where the Brexit Party failed to field a candidate, the floating Leave vote almost perfectly coalesced around the Conservative candidate. Almost all of the vote lost by the Labour Party was swallowed up by the candidate standing on the manifesto to ‘Get Brexit Done’. This mirrors the analysis made by Datapraxis that showed that almost 90 percent of Brexit Party voters would have otherwise voted for the Tories.
But why is this important now? I believe that the 2024 election will again be fought on the new frontier of British politics, the red-wall. It will be essential for both the Prime Minister and Sir Keir Starmer to win the support of these floating voters, and importantly the two per cent of voters who voted for the Brexit Party last December. They embody a new political consensus. A consensus that, as Dominic Cummings described in 2017, leans slightly left-of-centre on economics, also known as ‘economic patriotism’, but holds firmly centre-right social views.
The political instability that the coronavirus has forced upon Britain, and for that matter, the rest of the world should not be underplayed. However, there is already scope that the vote of the first-time Tory voting Workington Man and the Brexit Party supporter could decide the next election. Even reports into Labour’s new ‘longest suicide note in history’ found that winning over these socially conservative voters is imperative to returning Labour to power.
What does this mean for Britain’s future in the world? Well, Boris Johnson’s government will firstly need to ensure that Brexit is delivered to fulfill the wishes of these voters who lent the Conservative Party their vote. Alexander Stafford, who was the first Conservative elected to represent Rother Valley, wrote in The Spectator that an extension to the transition period would be ‘unthinkable’ and a ‘betrayal’ to his constituents. Savanta ComRes even found that 35 percent of Red-Wall Tory voters who voted for Corbyn in 2017 would look at the party less favourably if they had pursued an extension to the transition period.
Labour too have already found out that the realignment of British politics has proved hard to reconcile. In rejecting the recent Immigration Bill to end freedom of movement, Keir Starmer enabled his party to be criticised for remaining out of touch with traditional Labour voters. These voters, according to the Lord Ashcroft Polls of 2016, claimed that control of our borders was the second most important reason to vote Leave.
Fortunately, the government held firm and rejected any call from Brussels for an extension to the transition period. Nevertheless, the self-proclaimed ‘People’s Government’ must reject other compromises proposed by Michel Barnier. I believe that the Conservative Party, as one of the most successful parties in the western world, will represent the voices of the British people and do just that.
I would like to address just two areas where constituencies that are represented on the currently barren benches behind Boris Johnson may be of significance. The first is the level playing field. EU directives have prevented the British government from intervening to protect British industry. Especially the steel industry. It would therefore be of no surprise that in the pursuit of delivering upon the 2019 manifesto pledge to level-up the United Kingdom, David Frost and his negotiating team stand up for the manufacturing industries and ensure divergence from the restrictive European Union. This will give Boris Johnson the freedom to use his newly found ‘Roosevellian’ economic principles whenever he so wishes.
Of course, the Chinese market had proved decisive in damaging the state of British steel. The current deterioration of Sino-British relations may be to the benefit of Britain’s remaining manufacturing industry that this is so. However, we mustn’t forget that research by the UK in a Changing Europe found that the whole country has jumped towards the idea of ‘economic patriotism’. This would even mirror some of the policies of the Brexit Party. Especially in considering British steel as a strategic industry.
Secondly, and potentially to the joy of free-market Brexiteers, the Tories must create an environment that creates jobs and reduces the cost of living. As I claimed in my first article for Global Vision, this must be done through free trade agreements. Forging new ties with old friends, including the USA, will help to create jobs across the United Kingdom, but in particular, jobs in the former industrial heartlands. Equally as important is creating a political economy that helps people, whether that be through reductions in the punitive VAT rate, previously constricted by EU membership or by incentivising businesses from across the world to set up in the United Kingdom.
Therefore, the northern front, or the red-wall, remains fertile ground for both of Britain’s two major parties. For the Tories to consolidate their support among voters in the newly found Conservative voter-base coalition they must work, both domestically and on foreign issues, to deliver upon the concerns of their new voters and produce tangible benefits. In that respect I agree with what Matthew Goodwin told Esther McVey’s Blue Collar Conservative group, ‘this is really the beginning’. We will just have to wait until the Welsh Assembly elections in 2021 to see what happens next.
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