Conservative victories in Labour heartlands in the 2019 General Election

This short article offers some initial thoughts on the impact of the Conservative election campaign in terms of the party’s performance in traditional Labour strongholds in the 2019 General Election.

There are a significant number of constituencies where Labour have been the dominant political party for many, many years. Media commentary have claimed that these constituencies represent a so called ‘red wall’ spreading from Wales, through the Midlands, and up into the North of England. However some of these constituencies were heavily Leave supporting areas in the EU referendum, and this presented a clear problem for the Labour Party who were trying to keep balanced between a pro-remain party membership, set against many Labour loyal voters who chose to leave in the EU referendum. Many loyal Labour voters in Brexit supporting areas have become disillusioned by what they perceive as Labour not fulfilling their wishes to leave the EU, and see Labour in the last parliamentary session as preventing the Conservative Government and country from leaving the EU. It is sometimes argued that Labour which claims to represent the needs of the working class, are disregarding the views of working class Brexit supporting Labour voters, despite them voting for the Labour Party often over many generations. They are in other words, Labour strongholds, but have these Labour strongholds been taken for granted?

It seemed logical that strong Brexit voting areas would switch their vote in protest at the lack of Brexit being implemented in a timely manner. Yet this means a significant psychological challenge to many loyal Labour voters. It may have seemed logical, at first glance, to switch voting allegiances to the Conservatives who are promising an imminent UK exit from the EU if they could get a majority in the 2019 election. Put simply, give Boris Johnson and the Conservatives ‘the keys to Downing Street’ with a workable majority and they will deliver Brexit as promised. Yet for many of these so called ‘old Labour’ communities voting Conservative has remained a significant act, as they are communities which rely on public services, often have below median incomes, and have strong memories about how communities have been damaged by what they perceive as Conservative policy and inaction which led to deindustrialisation and resultant loss of jobs, especially in the manufacturing and mining industries.

So, what is the outcome of the 2019 election in terms of Conservative gains from Labour strongholds? Put simply there is a Conservative majority of 80 seats, of which Conservative gains from Labour have contributed substantially. What is surprising is that the Conservatives have won seats, where it was often unlikely to be thought possible based on previous electoral performance. For example, seats in the Black Country area of the West Midlands, through to the pottery areas of Stoke on Trent, up to former mining communities in Bolsover, and areas of the north east such as Blyth Valley, Sedgefield, and even Wrexham in Wales have all seen historic election results in 2019, with so called ‘Labour heartland’ seats being won by the Conservatives. Gains of such constituencies represent a true landmark in British politics with Boris Johnson’s message of ‘get Brexit done’ resonating with proportions of voters in such constituencies, set against a rejection of Jeremy Corbyn as potential Prime Minister, and the big state left-wing ideology posited by Labour.

Whilst it can be seen that the Conservatives have made significant gains, the immediate challenge is now for the Conservatives to satisfy these voters. Key to this is delivering on Brexit, managing electoral expectations in potentially complicated negotiations on the future relationship with the UK and the EU, and meeting the needs of these constituencies by regeneration and job creation strategies. It remains a significant challenge for the Conservatives to retain traditional Labour constituencies in the next general election, but if they were to do so, this suggests a major shift in the political terrain of the UK.