So much for my prophecies of doom. Britain’s Conservatives won, and they won with a very healthy parliamentary majority, breaking through Labour’s “red wall” across the industrial (and post-industrial) Midlands and the North.
Leave-voting former mining towns like Workington, which was seen as representative of the voters parties needed to win over, backed the Tories. Tony Blair’s former constituency of Sedgefield went blue. As did West Bromwich East, vacated by former Labour deputy leader Tom Watson.
The Conservatives carved a path from Greater Manchester to Lincolnshire, Birmingham to Northumberland, as once Labour strongholds fell. Redcar, a seat in the north-east of England that had never before voted in a Conservative, picked Jacob Young over Labour’s Anna Turley by 3,527 votes.
Some of these seats have not had a Tory MP in decades – and in the case of Burnley it had been more than a century.
The Conservatives’ winning formula appears to have been a blend of Brexit and distrust of Jeremy Corbyn, a distrust that a fanatic with a curious affinity for terrorists, anti-Semites, and authoritarian regimes richly deserved.
If the Conservatives are to repeat last night’s success in the next general election (currently scheduled for 2024) they will want to claw back some of those London voters. They will also have to make some progress with the younger voters who voted Labour in 2017 and 2019 (the usual assumption — that they will simply ‘grow out of it’ — is unlikely to prove accurate for quite a while). As for Scotland, that is a discussion for another time.
Then there’s the crucial question of all those new Tory supporters in the former Labour heartlands. The Conservatives need to understand that in most cases they have merely been lent those votes, courtesy of Corbyn and the fight over Brexit, both of which will be ancient history in five years’ time. That means that, if the Conservatives are to have a chance of hanging onto those seats, they will have to reorient their policies away from the (long-fading) free market ethos of the Thatcher years.
In a fine article over on the home page, Michael Brendan Dougherty writes that:
Johnson’s ability to firmly detach Labour voters from the Labour party is another indication that center-right parties are ascendant when they reject the cultural extremism of the left, but abandon the politics of austerity and aspirations for a laissez-faire economy.
As someone who favors moving economic policy as far as is politically feasible (Thatcher was much more of an incrementalist than her legend would suggest) in a laissez-faire direction, I have to say, sadly, that I agree: Necessity will be the mother of reelection. Put another way, Johnson, by instinct an economic liberal (in the traditional sense of that word), may end up being the last — and the most effective — of the gravediggers of Thatcherism.
That he is in this position is in no small part due to the determination of many of the Tory party’s remaining Thatcherites to pursue a hard Brexit. As the Iron Lady once said, it’s a funny old world.