Listening to the red wall

1st October 2020

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Labour in the City were delighted to host a virtual Q&A between Deborah Mattinson, founding partner of Britain Thinks and former political strategist to Gordon Brown, and 40 of our members. Deborah spoke about her new book ‘Beyond the Red Wall’ which analyses the underlying causes resulting in the 2019 election results and the totemic shift in party loyalties.

For those who couldn’t make it in person here are some of the key takeaways from Labour in the City Vice-Chair, Tanisha Aggarwal:


On the 2019 election results

The Conservative Party won 43.5% of the vote whilst Labour’s vote dropped to 32.2% resulting in Labour’s biggest defeat since 1935. The share of Labour votes is now confined to cities and some university towns. What happened? Post-election analysis shows class-based loyalties to a party no longer mattered and in fact the Conservative party performed especially strong with people who define themselves as ‘working class’. Labour on the other hand performed well with highly qualified voters, winning 43% of graduates and achieving a 43-point lead with 18-24 year olds, presenting a disparity between traditional Labour voters and the voters of today.

On red wall voters

Deborah noted that in three decades of polling, she had never done a focus group in Red wall seats. That 4.7million people had never been asked about their views is remarkable.  Perhaps more importantly, these voters didn’t just feel neglected, they felt sneered at despite having the same aspirations as other voters. The closure of Marks and Spencer’s in Red Wall high streets became a symbol for the run-down nature of the area. Like the negative reflection of the so-called ‘Waitrose effect’ that homeowners effuse over. With far greater representation of Brexit Leave voters in Red Wall seats, it’s clear that Brexit offered them a different kind of politics – one where these voters felt listened to and had the opportunity to ‘stick two fingers up’ to the elite. The EU referendum also showed voters in Red Wall seats that their votes held power. Something they were keen to exercise in 2019. 

On Keir

A big draw of Keir Starmer’s leadership for red wall voters is simply that he is not Jeremy Corbyn. Though voters are sympathetic that he became leader during a global health pandemic, its clear that voters have not yet seen enough of Keir or know what he stands for. If Labour are going to win back voters, Keir must make clear to voters that he understands their priorities before he can woo them back.

On Boris

For Red Wall voters, Boris presented a break from leaders gone-by. His patriotic and positive attitude has won these voters over despite his somewhat chaotic approach. However, his handling of the pandemic has disappointed many. The fall-out from Dominic Cummings visit to Barnard Castle saw a 20% drop in the Government’s approval ratings overnight as voters questioned whether Boris really was on their side or the side of the elite. Despite this wobble, new Tory voters are unlikely to abandon Boris so quickly – now that they’ve made the shift from Labour to Conservative, they will not so easily return to their old voting allegiances.

How can Labour win back these voters?

For Labour to achieve a majority of one, they will have to win back 124 seats which is a herculean task. Labour MPs need to fight for the communities they represent and not be used as a safe seat for favoured sons within the Party. We also need to bridge the gap between the Labour’s metropolitan tribe and those in Red Wall seats.  It may also be that the bigger compromises need to be made by metropolitan voters than Red Wall voters.  Above all else, if Labour are going to win then they must prove they can be trusted with the economy, an area where Labour in the City members will have a key role to play.

Labour in the City would like to extend our thanks again to Deborah and all our members for their excellent contributions.

Tanisha Aggarwal


Labour in the City