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December 28, 2019

Postmortem of an election


December 28, 2019

The various statistical analyses of the UK general election result have been coming in, and they allow some interesting and perhaps important observations to be made.

The perception that it was Leave voters switching from Labour to Tory en masse who cost Labour the election has to be qualified by the fact that Labour lost (an estimated) twice as many Remain voters to other parties than it did Leave voters.

A Datapraxis post-election survey reports: “In total, we therefore estimate that over 1.3 million of Labour’s 2017 voters switched to other Remain parties, while something like 700,000 to 800,000 of its Leave voters and 300,000 of its Remain voters switched to the Conservatives”.

The conclusion here has to be that Corbyn’s “constructive ambiguity” approach over Brexit did not please voters – whether they be Remainers or Leavers – looking for parties to have cut-and-dried positions on Brexit.

If immigration was an issue that drew Leave voters to the Tories, it did so in areas with fewer immigrants.

Many of the heaviest Leave voting areas had fewer immigrants, both EU and non-EU.

The North-East (58.03 percent voted Leave in the 2016 EU referendum, 52 percent being the national average) had 1.6 percent foreign-born voters. In the North-East the Conservatives increased their vote share by +12.8 percent over the 2017 election result, while Labour’s fell by -18.1 percent. The Tories gained 5 seats in the process, including the one formerly held by Tony Blair.

Conversely, areas with a strong immigrant presence voted Remain in the 2016 referendum, and voted for Labour in this election, albeit with reduced majorities.

London (59.9 percent voted Remain in the 2016 EU referendum, 48 percent being the national average) had 38 percent foreign-born voters. In London Labour held 49 of the 73 constituencies, the Tories 21 and the Lib Dems 3, with the Tories gaining 2 but losing 2, and both Labour and the Liberal Democrats gaining 1 but losing 1.

So paradoxically the areas with the fewest immigrants had Leave voters (immigration being a significant issue for pro-Brexiters) boosting the Tory vote, while the areas with the most immigrants voted Remain in 2016 and enabled Labour to keep its strongholds in 2019.

Looking at the data on class demographics, the Tory vote was strongest among the upper working-class aged 50+ (C2 in the UK’s Census classification). C2s are people with low levels of educational attainment, working in sectors not requiring specialist qualifications, but making a “middle class” income.

C1s are the lower middle class, but since the C2s often match the C1s in income levels, they are divided not so much by wealth, but the job categories by which this wealth is acquired.

These C2s were Mrs Thatcher’s original base. Typically having left school at 16, they pushed themselves into physical work until in a position to become self-employed businessmen in one- or two-person enterprises (salvage and scrap merchants, handymen, chimney cleaners, bricklayers, house painters, and so forth), invariably in small cities or towns.

Brits often refer to these individuals as “white-van men”, after the vans they usually drive in the course of their work.

When Thatcher sold-off social housing, white-van men could exercise their “right to buy”. With gentrification, these properties escalated in value, and by their 50s many C2s were quite well-off.

The tabloid press – unrelentingly pro-Brexit but owned by billionaires domiciled in foreign tax havens – has these C2 “self-mades” as its target readership.

At the same time, the majority of working people under the age of 50 backed Labour.

These under-50 workers are different from the older C2s described above. They typify in many ways the “feminization” of the workforce – ie, they are call-centre operators, home-care assistants, supermarket inventory checkers, direct-marketing salespersons, dog walkers and pet-sitters, or delivery riders (though these tend to be male), thereby constituting a new and different “working class” in contrast to the older C2s.

The Tory vote relied on this older, increasingly retired C2 working-class, whose influence stems from the sheer numerical superiority of postwar baby-boomers. Sixty-seven percent of over 70s voted Tory, 14 percent of over 70s voted Labour. But of course this older generation is being snared by the coils of mortality with each passing year.

The new, emergent working class that voted Labour is very different from their older C2 working-class counterparts.

Much less wealthy, indebted (mainly by student loans), often living in over-priced but substandard accommodation, working on flexible-hour and non-guaranteed contracts, they have moved to bigger cities simply because there is no work in their “left behind” rust-belt hometowns.

Excerpted from: ‘The UK Election: a Postmortem’.