June 25, 2020 - 11:54am

Was the 2019 general election really the great realignment it’s been cracked up to be?

Yes, is the answer — and there’s plenty of proof in a new report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation by Matthew Goodwin and Oliver Heath.

The headline finding is that “for the first time in recorded history” the Conservatives did better than Labour among people on low incomes. Indeed, the Tory lead over Labour among these voters was 15 percentage points. And that’s not the strangest part:

Remarkably, the Conservatives are now more popular among people on low incomes than they are among people on high incomes. The Conservatives are no longer the party of the rich, while Labour is no longer the party of the poor. The Labour Party that Sir Keir Starmer recently became leader of is today just as popular among the wealthy as it is among those on low incomes. Both parties have inverted their traditional support base.
- Matthew Goodwin and Oliver Heath
Flow of low-income voters, 2017 to 2019. Credit: JFR

What UnHerd writers like Paul Embery warned would happen did indeed happen.

Also worth noting is that the shift in working class support was not an exclusively regional matter — i.e. it wasn’t confined to the Red Wall areas in the North and Midlands. As the report states, “the Conservatives made gains among low-income voters all across the country” — including London and the South East.

Obviously, in terms of seats we saw the most dramatic results were along the Red Wall — but, in part, that’s because there was less of an offsetting move of high income voters away from the Conservatives in these areas compared to the nation as a whole.

Despite their overall triumph, the Tories lost support among high income voters — especially to the Lib Dems who saw their vote share in this group increase from 13.2% (in 2017) to 18.9%.

In short, no party can take its voters for granted. While a realignment really did take place last year, its permanence cannot be assumed.