With unionists getting grubbed in Scotland and Labour being driven to near-extinction in vast
swathes of the south, a new map of political Britain is emerging. In my latest Telegraph column, I called it ‘Tricolour Britain’ — the
SNP at the top, Tories at the bottom and Labour stuck in the middle (with Wales). Policy Exchange has today released research which throws more light on this slow-mo political segregation. I thought CoffeeHousers may be
interested in what strike me as the top points.
1. Scottish Tory Syndrome
is when a once-dominant party loses and doesn’t recover. The party has failed to capture the imagination of voters, so when its apparatus is knocked
down there’s no political force to bring it back. Rather than become hated, it is ridiculed. When I left Scotland in 1995, voting Tory was still seen as a great evil. Now, it’s seen as
a curiosity — a harmless but odd English habit like Morris Dancing or cricket. It has become just culturally alien in large parts of Scotland: something that’s just not done. I have
friends who are Tory in London but SNP in Scotland. But Labour in Scotland are now so weak that they may lose Glasgow City on Thursday, and the Lib Dems so weak that current polls suggest
they’ll lose every Scottish seat at the next election, save for Orkney & Shetland. It’s hard to plot a national comeback when your nearest city is Bergen.
2. Labour is facing extinction in vast chunks of the South West.
Labour holds just 140 of the 1,873 of the council seats in the South West, or 7 per cent. In Dorset, it’s 3
per cent of councilors. In Cornwall, it’s 0.8 per cent. And if you think that’s bad, in 17 South West councils, Labour has zero representation. This is what political extinction looks
3. Save Ben Bradshaw!
And even where the (urban) pockets of the south west where Labour is reasonably healthy — like Plymouth and Exeter — there are concerns right at
the top of the Labour Party that it is losing apparatus and reputation. Ben Bradshaw, the Exeter MP, wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph
protesting against this
analysis. He’s one of my favourite Labour MPs, a walking reminder of the era when Labour won landslides nationwide. So I don’t wish him gone. All I can say is that a lot of people, atop
his party, are very worried that Labour is becoming as alien to voters in the South West as the Conservatives are in Scotland.
4. The Labour-Tory North-South gap is big, and widening.
The following graph shows the difference between the Conservative and Labour poll numbers
in the North and the South:
5. The Lib Dems are losing friends in the north, deemed guilty by association.
Polls in Scotland suggest that, at the next election, the Lib Dems will lose all but one of their
Scottish seats — left only with Orkney & Shetland. That’s punishment for supping with the blue devil. In England, a gap is emerging for Lib Dems support in the North and South. They
are fielding 1,100 fewer council candidates, and focusing on the South West — to defend what they have chosen as their heartland. Tory ministers have noticed how Lib Dem ministers think of
any excuse to visit the South West.
6. The Tom Watson-isation of Labour.
a ‘northern snobbishness’ which regards the South as inhabited ‘merely by rentiers and their parasites’. This is, increasingly, Labour’s attack line:
Cameron and Osborne are posh rentiers, with parasitical banker chums. Brown-era hit men Tom Watson and Ian Austin are both northerners keen to play the class card against the Tories (the one they
were itching to play against Blair and the likes of Bradshaw). Slowly, you can hear this coming through the Miliband/Balls attack line (‘out of touch’).
7. Labour deserts are emerging in the South
and several councils have zero Labour members, inlcuding: Cheltenham, Eastleigh, Dorset, Poole, Wokingham, Maidstone, Cotswold,
Tewkewsbury, South Somerset and Purbeck.
8. Tories: no friends in the north.
Cameron’s message is like Heart FM: it sounds great to southerners, but they don’t get it up north. In 1951, the Tories held 51 per
cent of the parliamentary seats in the North West; now they are down to 29 per cent. The following cities have zero Tories on the council: Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Sheffield.
Neil O’Brien, director of Policy Exchange, has previously observed
that Tories do so badly in cities that
only two Tory MPs have premiership football teams in their constituency.
9. All parties have thinning troops, so they will be defending their base.
The disenchantment with Westminster parties has seen all of them lose members, volunteers, leaflet
deliverers etc. Parties with scarce resources will simply give up on places where there’s no seats to be had. Look at the top 100 Labour target seats
— just seven of them are in the South West. Why bother there? If you’re a Tory strategist with
£1m, you’ll spend it in the Midlands where there’s more low-hanging fruit — not in Scotland. Thus parties simply give up on parts of the UK, and the voters give up on
10. It’s not all Geography.
Labour and Tory voters have pretty much the same concerns, north and south. The Policy Exchange polling shows that swing voters in the North and
the South have near-identical responses to a whole bunch of questions. The following opinions are closest to party choice: believing benefits are too high, being inclined to use private healthcare,
regarding the human rights agenda as a problem and being annoyed that public sector pay is higher than that in the real economy. There may be proportionally more C2D voters in the North than in the
South, but finding a message for those C2Ds is something that would help either Labour or the Tories nationwide. The solution is not to have a ‘Minister for Merseyside’ but a message
for those voters. People won’t come running back to a party if there is no inspiring message. The way to break out of the geographical barricades is to find a cause that people think is worth
supporting. Sometimes, politics really is that simple.