by UnHerd
Thursday, 1
April 2021
Seen Elsewhere
11:54

The Tories’ Red Wall success should also be a warning

A generation of property-starved millennials won't be voting blue any time soon
by UnHerd
Prime Minister Boris Johnson in north-west England. Credit: Getty

Articles in The Economist have no bylines. Nevertheless, Duncan Weldon deserves recognition for this one. It’s a much-needed corrective to the standard ‘Red Wall’ narrative. 

The Red Wall is the name given to the 50 seats across the North, the Midlands and Wales that went from Labour to Conservative at the last election. Though these areas are typically poorer than the country as a whole, they’re not quite as the London-based commentariat might imagine them to be. 

As Weldon puts it, “the dilapidated high streets of former industrial towns, which are sometimes compared to the American rustbelt, are only half the story of Mr Johnson’s new domain.”

Even if the town centres have seen better days (something that’s increasingly true in the South as well as the North), they are “often surrounded by gleaming new suburbs: a British counterpart to the American dream.”

Going all the way back to Noel Skelton in the 1920s, the Conservative Party has had a name for this British dream: “the property-owning democracy.”

In recent years, however, it’s lost sight of this vision — allowing, indeed encouraging, house prices to inflate beyond the reach of aspiring home owners. And yet that problem is a lot worse in some parts of the country than others. Wage levels may be lower in the Red Wall regions, but as Weldon points out “these seats have some of the lowest housing costs in the country, and a greater share of home owners.”

Here, the British dream is still alive. 

It ought to be said that James Kanagasooriam — the polling expert who launched the Red Wall into the political consciousness — was clear as to its true nature from the very outset. Looking at the economics and demographics of the communities in question, he argued that there was a huge stretch of northern Labour territory where the Tories ought to be winning some of the seats, but weren’t. He concluded that this underperformance was due to cultural resistance to voting blue.  

Fortunately for Boris Johnson, the Labour Party embarked upon a programme of making itself even more repellent to these voters, thus enabling the Tories to activate the advantages of a still-affordable property-owning democracy. 

However, that should make the Conservative Party all the more concerned about the barriers to home ownership in pricier parts of the country. Labour may have lost the Red Wall, but it will benefit from a ‘red wave’ of younger voters, who will remain red if they’re permanently priced-out by the housing market. 

Make no mistake, this is an existential threat. The death of the British dream will be the death of the Conservative Party. 

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
17 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

Yes, it’s an disgrace and it really took hold during the New Labour years, along with most of the features that have come to blight this land. But many MPs are landlords and they won’t do anything to upset the apple cart.

Peter Scott
Peter Scott
1 year ago

It may be wishful thinking on my part, and no-one should underestimate the Inertia of the British public when it comes to making a bid for real electoral change and freedom, but a part of me suspects that both the main legacy parties, Tories and Labour, are on their way out.
They are worn out; have long since become vehicles merely for 3rd-4th rate people seeking a career in politics as a way of being self-important, well-to-do and privileged without anything much in the way of talent, competence and achievement.
To those ends, those same careerists have embraced fatuous pseudo-causes: e.g. ending ‘institutionalized racism’, exalting fears about Climate Change while ignoring all the big issues which impact the human lives they are supposed to represent (mass immigration, loss of proper jobs, housing shortage &c).
Trapped though the public may be in an electoral system (which I believe in) that forces them, as they think, always to choose the lesser of only two available evils, there are only so many decades in which citizens at large can consent to be ‘represented’ by people who do not represent them in any matter about which they care.
My suspicion is that we have reached the critical-mass point; that if any new party comes along which talks sense on more than two big issues, it will do very well and soon replace the legacy parties.
This will be the first such quantum leap in one hundred years; but it is overdue and now at last, for the first time, feels, to me, likely.

Last edited 1 year ago by Peter Scott
Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Scott

I largely agree with your analysis of the two main parties and their relevance to our lives and the issues facing the country. Whether or not a new party can break through is another issue. Right now we have Reform, Reclaim and the SDP all with many sensible policies, but surely they need to come together if they are to disrupt the duopoly.

Peter Scott
Peter Scott
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

If the two legacy parties are absolutely worn out, not only in themselves but in the perception of most citizens; then I think one of two things will tend to happen.
Either, one of those three parties you mention will forge ahead of the others and become the vehicle for Real Change which the public supports.
Or, as things progress, those three parties find common themes and ground, coalesce and become one instrument.
It is all a question of whether or not we are right in thinking that millions now share our view that the 2 main political parties in this kingdom represent nothing which matters to most of us; and that this has gone on so long, it is no longer a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils but desperately needing to break free from both of them.
With Corbyn gone and his fellow maniacs considerably back-footed, there is less to dread from a Labour victory next time than in 2017 and 2019.

Daniel Goldstein
Daniel Goldstein
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Scott

“Trapped though the public may be in an electoral system (which I believe in)”
If you believe in the current electoral system, nothing is going to change. That’s what reinforces the duopoly.

Peter Scott
Peter Scott
1 year ago

Proportional Representation means a suffocating all-clogging rule by small to tiny parties, stopping the bigger players in a coalition from ever actually breaking free from past failed policies.
It is too high a price to pay for a system which permits breakthroughs for small parties challenging the legacy dinosaurs.
In this matter the longest way round – defeat of the dinosaurs by a dynamic small party which the public gets behind – is not only the shortest way home but the only way home.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

It is interesting to me that after over 100 years the Labour Party has realised that it can’t win – unless it mirrors the Tory Party and looks like Tony Blair.
Only very recently has the New Statesman, Socialist Review, etc, started to talk about PR. Everybody (and I mean everybody) knows that PR means ‘to go with the flow’ and if BLM is the flow, then PR will support it.
At first view, ‘to go with the flow’ looks logical because it seems like a majority has made the decision and that is democracy, isn’t it? But what happens if it really means, ‘to go with the fashion‘? Is that also good?
It seems to me that this is an ‘age’ thing. The Left wants to attract youth and go with any fashion which gets it into power. The Right (or as you say, the Shires) means that the view can also represent the whole population, including old people and including now the traditional Left, the working class – who might seem useless to you but I wouldn’t agree. Being an academic, you would introduce yourself as Dr Stephen Nightingale because it sounds impressive. I, personally, wouldn’t do that.
Dr Chris Wheatley

Chris Hopwood
Chris Hopwood
1 year ago

A recent article commented on Labour being unable to reconcile “Hartlepool and Hampstead”. This article gives one example of how the Tories may struggle to reconcile its “red” and “blue” walls.

Frederick B
Frederick B
1 year ago

If the Right could get its act together the Tories would be shafted in the north and midlands but,sadly, where Ukip used to be there are now half-a-dozen micro parties.

Peter Scott
Peter Scott
1 year ago
Reply to  Frederick B

There is (I think) an unwritten, unspoken, unperceived rule about the emergence of new political parties. –
Any new party can start small, in fact almost inevitably has to; but it must not remain small for long.
If it does so, or if – like the Liberal Party in the 20th century – it was once a big mainstream affair which has shrunk drastically; it becomes a home for cranks who are not really interested in serious political power and change but essentially want to lead dilettante lives as big frogs in a small pond.
That happened to the Liberals. It has also happened to UKIP, some way back.
UKIP had a first-class manifesto, on all 50 counts, in 2015’s general election; but in Nigel Farage and his predecessors as leaders of the party, a hopeless strategist, a non-starter tactician. (I agree with Mr Farage about most of his opinions and have voted UKIP whenever possible.)
I am now watching to see what the Reform Party makes of itself. Richard Tice is as yet no very good public speaker; but then the public no longer wants what Hamlet called ‘words, words, words’.
If he and his colleagues can present the nation with a handful of sane policies on big issues and talk about realities, as Nigel Farage usually did, and this time, unlike all the previous occasions when small parties have made no breakthrough, actually achieve escape velocity above the gravitational pull of the System, then they can become big quickly.
There is an absolute weariness natonwide across the board with both the corrupt ‘Conservatives’ (who conserve nothing) and the corrupt ‘Labour’ Party who never address the issue of lost proper jobs.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Scott

I find Richard Tice to be a pretty good and convincing speaker when he appears on Talk Radio.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago

The Tories have been a notably successful political party by being willing to change their position on key policy areas. Especially with the growth of key provincial ‘Leave’ and metropolitan ‘Remain’ identities in recent years, it is far from inconceivable that they and Labour could at least partially reverse their traditional representation of owner occupiers and renters respectively. It is hardly the case anyway that every single home owner used to vote Conservative.

While parties do have their activist bases, they also have every incentive to seek votes, the Tories generally more successfully than Labour. I know it is deplored by some of the commentators here, but voters for example strongly support the NHS, and even to a significant degree policies to mitigate climate change, among many other examples.

The parties, the media (including increasingly non-mainstream sources), pressure groups and lobbyists, and public opinion are in a very complex and evolving rather than static relationship.

Many political tensions and the frequent lack of political honesty in public debate, arise from the fact that many of the major policy desiderata are in conflict with each other. There is also the commonly observed principle that while voters often want the government to extend its involvement or spending, they implicitly expect this to be funded by taxes levied on other people and companies, not their own.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Fisher
Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

How often does it have to be said? The vast majority of the media that people actually consume i.e. BBC, Sky, ITV is very much biased against the Tories.
The printed media is balanced at best, and arguably slightly anti-Tory/anti-British when you allow for The Economist, FT, Times and others.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
1 year ago

Theres nothing particularly wrong with renting-it was what the majority of people did until the 1960’s , so long as the property is maintained and the rent is fair. Before mass house-buying took off in the 1970’s and 80’s people who owned a property did not see a huge return when they re-sold. I wonder how many of these ‘foot on property ladder’ people then quickly re sell at a huge profit thereby putting another house beyond the reach of local people with lower wages?

Daniel Goldstein
Daniel Goldstein
1 year ago

That was a good Economist article. The Hartlepool by-election has got me thinking about the Red Wall and there’s a lot of oversimplification about it. Those areas have been stereotyped. That comment from a shadow minister was very telling, saying it was a surprise those seats were still voting Labour. There’s a solid middle-class base which would help the Tories in the Red Wall. They wouldn’t have won those seats if they were completely working-class. But yes, the younger generation don’t own property by and large so they’ll be less inclined to vote Tory.

Jonathan Munday
Jonathan Munday
1 year ago

Which is ironic because the housing market is a demand issue. And that demand has been stoked by the Globalist’s immigration policy over the last 25 years – starting with the last “Labour” government and followed up by the “Conservative” two after it. Britain’s population has increased by 10% on official figures, which you can believe, if you choose, but housing stock has not, and house prices have gone up everywhere but especially in London and the South.
Now that 1m EU citizens have left and assuming that Pritti Patel has indeed the Home Office by the throat, demand and house prices will fall. Rebalancing the economy will stop every able bodied northerner needing to move south for a better job and take the pressure off the London market. Sanctions on China (the FCO finally awake to the danger) means that less of Central London will be flogged off. It all helps. It’s even Conservative policy nowadays.
UKIP – mad, derided and unelectable – in power but not in office- showing once again the sheer unimportance in politics of being right.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jonathan Munday
Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 year ago

Apparently, Labour is set to reinstate the repellence if they lose the Hartlepool by-election. So the newest member of the Red Wall should be about to confirm the future of all the others.