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Red Wall ‘preoccupation’ hides reality of left-behind voters, says study

Workington in Cumbria, one of the Red Wall seats where the Conservatives made gains in 2019 (Danny Lawson/PA)
Workington in Cumbria, one of the Red Wall seats where the Conservatives made gains in 2019 (Danny Lawson/PA)

Politicians need to end their “preoccupation” with the Red Wall and focus on younger non-graduates across the country, new research has argued.

The Conservatives’ victory in a swathe of Northern seats previously held by Labour in 2019 has led to intense focus on the so-called Red Wall and a belief that poorer, “left behind” voters have switched from supporting Labour to the Tories.

But research published on Tuesday by political scientists Professor Jane Green and Dr Rose de Geus argued this belief is “misguided” and it is still economically secure voters who are the basis of Conservative support, even in the Red Wall.

Prof Green, a fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford, said: “The problem has become where (the Red Wall) has now become a short cut for saying the Conservatives have gained among low income voters and those who are more working class.

“If you look at economic insecurity, the Conservatives are still way ahead among economically secure voters and Labour are just ahead with the economically insecure.

“The assumption now is really that the Conservatives are supported by poorer voters and our research shows they are supported by richer voters.”

Their report, published by the Nuffield Politics Research Centre, added: “This suggests that the Conservative coalition is owed to economic security, as well as to Brexit.

“And a loss of that security could be very electorally damaging.”

A voter placing a ballot paper in the ballot box (Rui Vieira/PA)
A voter placing a ballot paper in the ballot box (Rui Vieira/PA)

The pair argued that it was younger non-graduates, men aged under 40 and women aged under 50, who were most likely to be economically insecure and could be a key electoral demographic, but were spread across the country rather than concentrated in the Red Wall.

Prof Green said: “I think they could be mobilised in either direction, either to Labour on the basis of their economic insecurity or the Conservatives on other issues.”

Those “other issues” include Brexit and cultural factors, although younger non-graduates are less likely to be Leave-supporting or socially conservative than their older counterparts.

But she emphasised that political parties could not afford to ignore any of the four groups identified in the study, younger non-graduates, younger graduates, older non-graduates and older non-graduates.

While younger non-graduates are “conflicted”, she said the same could be said for older graduates who are more likely to vote and could be swayed towards the Conservatives by their relative economic security.

Conversely, she said, the cost-of-living crisis could see support for the Conservatives fall among pensioners if they ended up facing greater insecurity.

The report said: “The future electoral coalitions of the parties lie both in economics and in cultural issues and they transcend types of place and levels of education.

“Economically insecure and secure voters live in various parts of the country and across types of constituency.

“Conservative voters are more insulated, on average, from the current economic crisis because they were more economically secure in the first place.

“They have buffers to weather economic storms.

“The voters who will be least able to sustain further economic hardship at the current time are  younger (though not all young) non-graduates; a group of voters both major parties need to try to attract.”

They added that “culture wars” provided “no guarantee” of winning support among either the economically secure or insecure.