by UnHerd
Thursday, 1
April 2021
Seen Elsewhere

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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