How did the Tories become the party of the working-class?

Sebastian Chromiak is Co-Editor-in-Chief at TPN, he’s also an undergraduate student at the University of Manchester and writes on Brexit and British Politics

Election day is nearly upon us, tomorrow we will take to the polls in an election that will define a generation. Both parties offer radically different economic visions for the country; Labour intends to nationalise core industries, such as the Railways and Water, in a move that looks much akin to the social-democracy that exists on the European continent. The Tories are pursuing a strategy that will turn the country into a neoliberal democracy, no irony intended, much akin to the American continent, my apologies to any Canadian readers.

The changes in how voters from certain demographics intend to vote has been, in my opinion, much overlooked, I believe this to be the election of realignment. This may not be the election where we see the full consequences of realignment, but social scientists will certainly be able to observe the trends. Nigel Farage has alluded to the phenomenon, that the Brexit Party can win in seats where the Tories can’t and won’t, unsurprisingly, I disagree on both fronts. Allow me to elaborate.

In simple speak, I believe that the Conservative Party is increasingly becoming the party of the working-class, whereas Labour is now the party of the young professionals and the emerging middle-classes, such a trend should concern the Labour party. This has been a paradox that has been increasingly visible since the Brexit Referendum, the balancing act between the Northern heartlands that voted to leave, and the city vote that is die-hard remain.

Yet the undercurrent of such electoral trends has been in development since 1997. New Labour’s appeal to said middle-class, was a response to changes in the electorate, where there was increased city-migration from university graduates. They held liberal values on a number of issues; including on sex, gender equality and gay rights. The Tories soon followed suit, David Cameron explicitly appealing to women, showing a compassionate side to a party still associated with Margaret Thatcher and her reformist policies driven by ideology.

Crucial in this was the fact that Labour left behind its traditional voters, particularly in the North, where traditional values of solidarity and community were more favoured. There was a certain hubris that occupied the Labour elite, that these communities would never turn blue, given the historical context, yet there was no appeal or compassion to the legitimate views that these people held.

One of the key concerns was around migration, often these are the same people that have been prayed upon by the forces of globalisation, Dani Rodrik – a famous economist on trade liberalisation and its links to populism – has found that support for trade liberalisation is correlated with demands for increased welfare payments. Yet successive governments cut the welfare state and the safety net that existed, this disproportionately effected those in Labour’s heartlands. UKIP’s genius was to crystalise the issue of migration, the victims of neoliberal politics and make it synonymous with the European Union. The rest, as they say, is history.

Labour has since repositioned itself as the party on the side of the working-classes, against the business elites. Presenting a reform agenda that is explicitly aimed at helping those that are in left-behind communities of former industrial towns. People have short memories; no longer do the same number of people see Labour on their side, they see a party that offers the potential for a reversal of a democratic vote. They see young professionals and middle-classes chanting the name of their leader. The Tories have promised to do as they wish, capitalising on the aforementioned gains that UKIP made, with the uninspiring and deliberately deceptive message that they will get Brexit done, with promises that Brexit has prevented change from occurring.

As I stated before, this may not be the election where the Red Wall crumbles, but the realignment has begun. It’s fascinating that working-class people believe that the Tories are on their side, it couldn’t be farther from the truth, yet this is the price of betrayal, of mistrust. In which parallel universe does Rees-Mogg resemble someone from Wigan, where is the common ground, where is the common-identification? We should ask similar questions of those that authored Britannia-Unchained, where one Tory MP remarked that Briton’s are amongst the worst idlers in the World. Priti Patel is seemingly so ideological that she could divide a diamond in two with her polarising views.

Still, and without even a dose of humility, it is those same centrist Labour politicians that proclaim that Corbyn is too radical, or that under his stewardship they are betraying the parties values. It seems that memories fade, lessons have not been learnt, when the diagnosis begins, some in Labour would do well to consider the historical underpinnings of tomorrow’s vote.


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