Is the support of Brexit-backing voters in ex-industrial towns key to the Tories winning the election?

The Brexit Party’s announcement that it will not stand in the 317 seats the Conservatives won at the 2017 General Election is a notable development – but not quite the game-changer some make it out to be. The risk remains of a “pro-Leave split” allowing Labour to cling on to Brexit-leaning seats such as Halifax and Crewe & Nantwich.

A Centre for Towns-YouGov joint enterprise found that in “ex-industrial towns”, Labour are trailing the Conservatives by 5 percentage points (27 per cent against 32 per cent). At the 2017 General Election, where both parties pledged to honour the result of the June 2016 referendum on EU membership, Labour were ahead of the Conservatives among this set of towns by a comfortable margin of 13 percentage points.

With Labour supporting a second referendum, the Conservatives have won the “permission to be heard” among some pro-Brexit voters who may not have traditionally voted for them. Supporting an end to EU freedom of movement and adopting a tough approach to crime, the Conservatives may well find it easy to find common “cultural ground” with a good number of voters living in post-industrial towns. 

But this includes towns located in former coal-mining and steel heartlands which struggled under Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as Prime Minister. Witnessing the battering of their own communities by the predatory winds of free-market globalism, many post-industrial voters are understandably in a more interventionist, protectionist space when it comes to economics. There will also be anxiousness over a number of botched pilot schemes for Universal Credit – which Labour has pledged to scrap entirely. 

In order for the Conservatives to become the party of post-industrial towns, it cannot simply meet voters over cultural anxieties based on immigration and law and order. It must also engage with anxieties associated with market capitalism – including the protection of workers’ rights and broader reservations over economic inequality.

This is admittedly a bitter pill to swallow for small-state Tories with a socially liberal mindset. But the reality is that the “Notting Hill set” project under former Prime Minister David Cameron – fiscal conservatism blended with social liberalism – is dead in the water.

For the Tories to establish themselves as a dominant electoral force across post-industrial towns, they will have to embrace a more critical view of the market and adopt a more flexible view on forms of government intervention. The party will have to undergo a process of fundamental reinvention – and this will include a serious policy reset on economic management.

There also has to a clear acknowledgement among the current Conservative Party leadership over the more dehumanising aspects of Thatcherism – parking able-bodied men on disability benefits to keep unemployment numbers under control being one example. 

The days of cringeworthy Ayn Rand fanboyism must be consigned to the dustbin of history. If there is a past Conservative Prime Minister the current-day Tories should look back on for inspiration, it is arguably Harold MacMillan.  

As well as supporting a regimented points-based immigration system and pledging to introduce tougher sentences, a sensible social-democratic policy pitch consisting of well-funded public services, comprehensive state investment in technical colleges and vocational courses, infrastructure projects designed to boost connectivity within regions and promoting greater worker representation on managerial boards could help the Tories become the leading political force in post-industrial towns. 

Whether or not the party chooses to grasp this golden opportunity to take over Labour’s traditional estate, however, remains to be seen.
Photocredit: Tim Green

The post Is the support of Brexit-backing voters in ex-industrial towns key to the Tories winning the election? appeared first on BrexitCentral.

* This article was originally published here


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