People will be picking through the aftermath of Thursday’s seismic election result for a long time to come, and perhaps no aspect of it more than the transformation of the class composition of the Conservative voter base.
The Tories led Labour in every social grade, and their lead was bigger amongst C2DE voters than their ABC1 counterparts. The class correlation with voting Labour, which has been weakening since 1997, has apparently finally disappeared altogether. Meanwhile the Opposition’s strongest results were amongst voters who earn between £40,000 and £70,000 a year, whilst the Conservatives enjoyed bigger leads amongst the <£20,000 and £20-40,000 groups than the £40-70,000 and £70,000+ groups.
All of this means that comparisons between Boris Johnson’s victory and Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 win are misleading. The Conservatives did have success wooing working-class voters in the Eighties, but Thatcher took office on the back of a commanding lead amongst the middle classes.
The Government clearly grasps the implications of this, namely that holding together the Party’s new coalition will require quite a different policy offer to what the Tories have typically offered in recent decades. This is doubly true if, as the evidence suggests, there is still scope to even further expand the Conservatives’ reach in old Labour heartlands.
A more left-leaning Toryism, which has already matched Thatcher’s high-water mark in Wales with room for growth, could also narrow the alleged ‘values divide’ which is so often trotted out to justify pushes for Scottish independence or ‘devo-max’.
It also poses an acute challenge to Labour, namely how to win back working-class seats lost to the Conservatives without exposing themselves to challenges from the Liberal Democrats or the Greens in their liberal, urban modern heartlands. It isn’t an impossible task – the Tories hold their new conquests alongside swathes of their traditional seats, after all – but it doesn’t yet look as if their current leadership contenders know how to meet it.