Election reflection: the fall of the ‘Red Wall’

January 14, 2020

 

The 2019 general election was set to be one of the most unpredictable in decades, with polls suggesting a myriad of outcomes all the way through the campaigning. However, now the results are in and Boris Johnson has won a landslide majority with 365 seats, compared to Labour’s 203, the reasons for this outcome need to be accounted for. Ultimately, it is clear that a combination of Jeremy Corbyn’s incompetence and Boris Johnson’s clear ‘get Brexit done’ message led to the biggest Conservative majority since Margaret Thatcher and the standing down of Jeremy Corbyn.

 

Much like in 2017, this was dubbed the “Brexit Election”. This was mainly fuelled by rhetoric from Boris Johnson and his party, leading to areas which heavily voted leave in 2016 to vote Conservative, including the constituencies of Boston and Ashfield. However, the incoherent Brexit policy of Corbyn and the Labour party was also a contributing factor. Their attempt to appease both leave and remain voters with a new renegotiated Brexit deal and a public vote within six months was a fundamental floor to the campaign as they ended up losing support from both sides. According to a recent poll from YouGov, Labour’s vote share amongst leave voters decreased to 14% from 24% in 2017, mainly going to the Conservatives, and their remain vote share decreased from 55% to 49%, predominantly going to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their ability to gain a majority. 

 

Of course, the manifestos of the two main parties covered more than just Brexit, with Labour claiming they will bring free care for the elderly, free university fees and payouts for the Waspi women, plus so much more. The Tories on the other hand were promising another 50,000 nurses, 250,000 extra childcare places and a point-based immigration system. Whilst both covered a wide range of policies, the Labour manifesto was too ambitious, with many asking where this “magic money tree” was coming from in order to pay for these plans. Arguably, this bolstered the plans of the Conservative party, as they seemed more realistic in comparison. Labour candidates themselves have since admitted that the ambitious nature of the party’s manifesto was too much to talk through on the doorsteps, with Jon Lansman, leader of Momentum saying the manifesto was “too detailed and too long” as it was a “programme for 10 years, not for government”. 

 

However, the success of any manifesto is ultimately determined by its leader and how they present themselves to the electorate. The leader of a party is quite rightly the face of the manifesto, so their popularity can affect how the wider electorate receive their promises. Corbyn was named in an Ipsos Mori poll as having the lowest net satisfaction ratings of any opposition leader since the late 1970s and this was reflected on the doorsteps in many constituencies, even those which had been Labour since the Second World War. His reputation was tarnished with his past support for the Irish republican movement and his lack of an apology for the antisemitism which is evidently rampant within the party. As put by Toby Perkins (Labour’s Chesterfield Candidate), the election was tough due to Corbyn’s “monumental unpopularity”. Arguably, this left room for Johnson to come to the fore as he had a more well defined position, even with the ongoing investigations into Islamophobia in the Conservative party; many perceived him to be the lesser of two evils.

 

All of the above factors led to the collapse of the “red wall” in the north of England. These were predominantly working class constituencies which had voted Labour for decades, but were attracted by Johnsons clearly leave Brexit strategy. Seats such as Great Grimsby, Redcar and Bishop Auckland fell into the hands of the Tories, meaning the wall was crumbling. Even ex-mining constituencies in the East Midlands like Gedling and Mansfield (which turned Conservative in 2017) are in favour of this Conservative government. This shows that the transformation from secondary industry to that in the tertiary and quaternary sectors under Thatcher was a grudge which many arguably “overlooked” for this election. The issue now for Johnson is the maintenance of these constituencies; is he going to be able to retain the trust these people have put in him when many generations in the same family have voted Labour for decades?

 

Finally, the role of the Scottish National Party needs to be acknowledged. Whilst they did take seats from both the Conservative and Labour party, the effects of this was more damaging for the latter. They gained 14 of their target seats, winning 47 of Scotland’s 59 seats, including Labours Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill. This shows a distinct end for the Labour party in Scotland as they only have one seat remaining: Edinburgh South.

 

The path forward now for both parties is incredibly different. For the Conservatives, it is a question of maintaining the trust of people who will have voted Labour for generations, but this is an issue which will be negotiated over the next 5 years. For the Labour Party, more imminent problems are on the horizon, mainly, who will be the next leader? This will be incredibly crucial for the 2025 general election for them to take back their “red wall” and go back to their image of being the party of the working class, especially as Scotland is lost to the SNP. However, one thing which is clear is that the party will not have Corbyn at the helm.

 

Image: ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

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