James Frayne is Director of communications agency Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion. The focus of this column is Theresa May’s conservatism for “ordinary working people”.
Over my last two columns I have looked at the data behind recent election results and made the case for the Conservatives to focus on provincial English lower middle class voters. In this column, I look at why such a focus could be nationally electorally successful, rather than merely delivering, at best, a chunk of the country. There are five key points to understand:
1. C1/C2 voters are large in number, full stop
As I pointed out last week, but it’s a useful reminder: C1/C2 voters make up 52 per cent of the electorate; while other groups that are attracting political interest are much smaller. 18-24 year olds – the focus of massive attention in recent weeks – are less than 15 per cent of the electorate, and relatively few vote; and AB voters are 23 per cent of the electorate. The “working poor” – an obsession of modernising Tories – are also small by comparison: there are different definitions but a recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation report estimated 4.8 million adults, or around 10.5 per cent of the electorate, could be categorised in this way.
2. C1/C2 voters are found in large numbers across the country
C1/C2 voters are nationally spread. The 110 seats with the highest C1/C2 vote share are, as shown below, spread across the country. Two points are worth noting: first, some regions like the South East have much bigger populations than others so will always look large; second, London is substantially under-represented compared with its size as a region, and the South West and Eastern England substantially over-represented.
3. C1/C2 voters are particularly important in marginal seats and they are swing voters
The most extensive polling done on C1/C2 voters and their political attitudes and values was commissioned and launched by Policy Exchange, just after the 2015 election. It showed that in “permanent battleground” seats – those that have traditionally been up for grabs in recent elections – C1/C2 voters have had a disproportionate impact (you can read the detailed marginal seats polling here). Those battlegrounds, as Paul pointed out yesterday, are in provincial urban seats across the country (you can see the full list on p. 14 here).
C1/C2 voters also swing between the two main parties and are decisive in the result. C1 and C2 voters show big swings between the Conservatives and Labour in the last 25 years. Young voter shifts, by contrast, are between Lib Dems and Labour more than Conservatives and Labour. C1/C2 voters were actively turned off by the 2017 general election campaign but in April 2017 were massively likely to support May (with leads of 49-24 Con-Lab for C1 voters and 46-26 for C2 voters).
4. C1/C2s are also found in large numbers in London
There is a concern among those analysing the election that by focusing on C1/C2 issues, Conservatives turn off the London voters they need. This is mostly mistaken. There are many seats in London that are C1/C2 heavy: it is just that they are outer London seats (the same areas that any potential Conservative Mayor of London must focus on) such as Carshalton and Wallington or Dagenham and Rainham. A provincial C1/C2 strategy will appeal in those areas.
5. A campaign for the provincial English lower middle class is the right one.
What does this mean in practice? It means that the Conservatives should run a campaign for the provincial English lower middle class – a campaign that self-consciously defines itself against the values and preferred issues of metropolitan London. That doesn’t mean old-fashioned Tory right-wingery; that’s the wrong thing to do and wouldn’t play well regardless. What it does mean is dumping the concept of “centrist, modernising politics” down a great big hole and running a campaign that combines what the public view as being traditionally right-wing (on issues like crime) with what they view as being traditionally left-wing (on issues like the NHS).
Such a campaign will be heard both by crucial provincial swing voters – those the party must carry to win a majority – and by lower middle class voters elsewhere across the country including in London. So the party will write off inner London? So what? Inner London has always been quite hard-left (for a look at the polling on inner London attitudes, check out this City AM piece) and the party has everything to gain by positioning itself in opposition to places like Islington.
It’s time to embrace provincialism in earnest.