If the Tories are pinning their hopes of re-election in 2024 on retaining the Red Wall seats they wrested from Labour in 2019, at least one opinion poll suggests their efforts are already doomed to failure
Note: Longer and updated version of the article published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 06 January 2021.
In folklore and mythology, the Grim Reaper appears wearing a dark, hooded cloak and carrying a scythe, to warn that nothing lasts forever, not least life itself. In political reality, however, his contemporary equivalent arguably comes clad in an Armani suit or skinny jeans, and bearing a laptop with unfavourable opinion survey results.
Or so the ‘Conservative’ Party might reasonably fear, after the Focaldata poll published over the weekend of 2nd/3rd January.
Reported and analysed in The Sunday Times, the poll’s findings were startling. They showed that, were a general election to be held now, the Tories would lose entirely the 80-seat majority which they secured only just over a year ago, putting us in hung Parliament territory and therefore almost certainly presaging a Labour/SNP coalition government.
The findings obviously need to be treated with caution. After all, it’s only one poll, the fieldwork for which was done during December and mostly before the conclusion of Johnson’s EU negotiations and his pre-Christmas announcement of his Brexit trade deal; and yes, nearly four years have to elapse before the next general election. All the same, for Johnson, in a mere 12½ months, to go from an 80-seat majority to an indicated hung Parliament is some collapse, as the eight percentage point vote loss shows.
Significantly, however, that projected 81-seat loss would include no fewer than 35 of the 43 Midlands and Northern Red Wall seats which in December 2019 voted Conservative either for the first time in decades or in some cases for the first time ever.
Perhaps, though, one should not be too surprised.
Three months ago, I argued that the bricks were already falling out of the Tories’ Red Wall, citing both evidence that voter opinion in those seats was already turning against them, and a growing body of opinion that those constituencies’ Tory MPs should recognise the extent to which their newly acquired support was already becoming restive.
If, as the Focaldata poll suggests, the Tories’ star is already waning electorally and the prospects of them retaining that raft of crucial Midlands and Northern seats are commensurately reducing, then Johnson has only himself to blame.
It’s those Red Wall voters who are disproportionately bearing the brunt of his SAGE-deferential, economy-damaging, authoritarian response to Covid. An Office for National Statistics analysis found that 17 of those 43 newly-Tory seats were in the top fifth of areas whose labour markets were most reliant on the sectors at prime risk from the impact of the government’s lockdown response. High-Street retailing in those areas has been badly hit, creating not only an unemployment effect but a broader adverse economic impact on local area prosperity.
Moreover, with a higher ratio of people in working-class and lower-middle-class employment not conducive to home-working than in the relatively affluent South-East, Red Wall voters are arguably more exposed to the virus itself. They’re suffering the exacerbation of the class divide which is a direct consequence of the Johnson government’s approach.
Not for many of them the pleasurable convenience of using a laptop in the kitchen and communicating with colleagues via Zoom in one of the middle-class cognitive-focused professions, while occasionally ordering food and other necessities online. If not already furloughed on a fraction of their regular pay, those newly-Tory Red Wall voters are relatively more likely to be found in the warehouses despatching the orders or the vans delivering them, or in any number of increasingly precarious workplaces that require physical attendance and face-to-face communication. You can’t work from home via Zoom if you’re a garage forecourt attendant or a self-employed carpenter.
At the same time, their children are more likely to be among those harmed by the growing educational inequality caused by the continuing school closures so insisted upon by the teaching unions, most of whose full-time members have continued to receive full pay, or even an inflation-busting pay rise, in return for not teaching.
In contrast to the children of the affluent middle classes who can afford private education, for whom online substitute education has reportedly been rigorous and fairly successful, 20 per cent of all State school pupils have been doing less than one hour of schoolwork a day, and 93 per cent of them have had four or fewer online lessons a day. They’re also less likely to come from households with the requisite technology or devices to benefit from what online teaching there is for them.
A half-generation of children is having its education blighted, with dire consequences for its future employment prospects or social mobility.
No wonder those Red Wall voters who lent their support to the Tories are now, according to their opinion-polling responses to Focaldata, withdrawing it in droves. Their jobs are at risk of disappearing, their small businesses are at risk of failing, their towns and neighbourhoods are at risk of declining, and their children are being denied their education.
And as if all that wasn’t bad enough, what do they see the same PM to whom they lent their vote in a leap of faith doing when – apparently mesmerised by the lockdown enthusiasts who ruefully but mistakenly thought they’d never get away with imposing in Europe the authoritarianism of a communist one-party state – he’s not levying on the economy and society draconian restrictions unprecedented in peacetime?
Proud that the UK is taking over the 2021 Presidency of the G7 today. Hosting both the G7 Summit and @COP26 will make this a hugely important year for Global Britain and I look forward to welcoming our friends and allies as we beat COVID and build back better from the pandemic.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) January 1, 2021
They see a Boris Johnson seemingly in thrall to the eco-fanatic Green lobby and the World Economic Forum’s globalist-elite, anti-democratic, technocratic-totalitarian Great Reset – and make no mistake, his use of the movement’s standard and sinister ‘Build Back Better‘ slogan is a dead giveaway – and looking forward eagerly to the crony-corporatism benefiting boondoggles designed to promote and accelerate its malign agenda.
No doubt some of them also recall a Boris Johnson who seemed, if not to go AWOL, then at least to be somewhat reticent in 2020 when it came to standing up against the anti-capitalist cultural marxism and anti-white racialist identitarianism of the extreme and even so-called ‘Liberal’ Left.
As well as being unimpressed with his Covid measures, maybe those Midlands and Northern voters also aren’t keen on Johnson’s apparent reluctance to challenge and reject the Woke-Left identity-politics intent on trashing their culture and national history, or on his slavish embrace of the Green agenda likely only to make their energy scarcer and more expensive, and they see little chance of his making their 2021 any better.
As long ago as last mid-October, I remarked of Johnson that seldom in modern political history can so much newly acquired electoral advantage, and with it a rare opportunity to re-align UK politics, have been so recklessly and needlessly squandered in so short a time. This now seems to be the verdict also of the Conservative-leaning think-tank Onward, whose recent research concludes that unless the Tories fulfil their ‘levelling up’ promises to their new electoral demographic, they risk forfeiting their 80-seat majority.
If the Focaldata poll over the weekend of 2nd/3rd January turns out to be accurate, it looks like Red Wall voters have already pre-empted them. And who can blame them? Johnson’s obsessive adherence to the SAGE-authoritarian and Green eco-globalist agendas respectively is repelling his new Red Wall voters, and he doesn’t seem to care.
On past form, the Tories’ most probable reaction will be an arrogance-driven either dismissal, complacency or condescension, but they should resist the temptation to indulge in either. A hint of the latter has already been seen in the patronising assumption that those votes can in effect be bought back merely by throwing taxpayers’ money at the areas concerned, but the reasons for voter dissatisfaction discussed above appear too deep-rooted to be amenable to that convenient solution.
Relying on upcoming boundary changes to deliver extra seats to compensate them for any loss looks unlikely to be enough, with only ten additional seats in prospect. Moreover, the vote boost gained from former Labour voters in those Red Wall seats being repulsed by the leadership of hard-Left Jeremy Corbyn should be regarded as a one-off phenomenon. For all his flaws and inadequacies, its new leader Sir Keir Starmer is considerably more electable.
It’s even possible that the revolt will expand and intensify, once greater awareness of Johnson’s failure to curb illegal cross-Channel immigration spreads, and the flaws which lie in his Barebones-Brexit deal, despite his hyperbolic spinning of it, finally become more and more apparent.
Polls are, of course, inconsistent and unreliable. The first full test of electoral opinion in those Red Wall seats should be coming at May’s 2021 local elections, including the local elections postponed from 2020 because of the first Covid-19 lockdown; “should”, because both now look likely to be delayed. Johnson’s ‘Conservatives’ seem to be keen to put off an encounter with the electorate for as long as possible. Perhaps their private polling is closer to that Focaldata poll result than they care to admit.
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