Yesterday Channel 4 news and JLPartners released an interesting poll of so-called “red wall” seats. A lot of things get written about “Red Wall seats” that don’t necessarily have much thought behind them. It is the Essex man or Worcester woman of the 2019 election, an easy buzzword that is too often a substitute for proper understanding. They are important, but you need to look careful at the nuances.

Let us start by going back to where the term originated, with James Kanagasooriam. It wasn’t just a generic word for northern marginals or Tory targets – James coined it when talking about as seats that demographically should have been Conservative, but which consistently voted Labour. James actually identified several groups of these seats – some in Wales, some in County Durham, and a big swathe of them across urban Lancashire and Yorkshire that looked like a red wall. Hence the name.

The whole point of James’ argument was that there were seats that in terms of their make up (class, economy, education, age structure and so on) you would expect to vote Conservative, but that they actually voted Labour because of a cultural, historical and social hostility towards the Tories. These weren’t seats full of horny-handed sons of toil, they were seats that were or had become more affluent but yet not become Tory. Sefton, for example, is largely affluent suburbia, with some of the highest home-ownership rates in the country. Yet it votes Labour, because it’s Liverpool’s suburbs, and people in Liverpool are not inclined to go about voting Conservative.

One can debate the reasons for this dislike, but the most obvious explanations are historical: the identity as former mining communities, the legacy and memory of Thatcherism and the dismantling of industry in the North in the 1980s. The point was, this was an obstacle to the Tories – how to appeal to these people who “should” demographically be their target audience, but for whatever reason were not interested.

Skipping ahead, we know that the Conservatives did manage to do this in many areas in 2017 and 2019. In fact in many of these areas there has been an incredible sea-change in voting behavior. Across the two elections the Conservatives have made gains there that would have looked unbelievable ten years ago. In 2015, the Conservatives won the national share of the vote by 7%. In 2019 they won by 12%, that is, a 2.5% swing across those two elections. Compare that to the Lab=>Con swing in some of the “red wall” seats. Sedgefield experienced a 14% swing across the two elections, Blyth Valley 13%, Bolsover 19%, Leigh 18%.

While there are some areas that did not follow this tide (Merseyside in particular is still extremely unforgiving territory for the Conservative party), among other areas in Lancashire, Country Durham, and Derbyshire mining areas the “red wall” decisively crumbled.

There are different explanations one can come up with for what happened. Part of it was probably the disruptive effect Brexit had upon traditional party ties, part of it perhaps a general change to the way the Conservative party has presented itself and its message. Much will simply be to the passage of time – those old mining identities can only sustain for so long once the mines have closed, the miners have passed on, the old sites regenerated and replaced by new build housing estates.

However, the Tory advances of 2017 and 2019 were not just in James’s red wall seats. Here is where it gets complicated, and why one should be cautious about throwing all those 2019 gains in together. The Conservatives gained other seats as well, some of which don’t match this description at all. Lewis Baston has written about this well previously. Some of them were in perennial marginals – places like Darlington, Stockton South, Keighley or Lincoln that have been competitive for decades and just happen to be in the North or the Midlands. If you are looking at opinion in the “red wall seats”, you have to be careful how you define it, and what you are actually looking at.

All that brings me round to the actual JLpartners/Channel 4 polling. This polled 500 people in the seats that the Conservatives won from Labour in the North & Midlands in 2019. The write up and full tables are here (do go and have a read, as there is lots of detail I have not explored below).

Overall the poll shows Labour at 47%, the Conservatives at 41%. In comparison, in the same seats the vote share in 2019 was Conservative 48%, Labour 39%. That translates into a swing of 7.5% from Conservative to Labour. In comparison the national polls conducted over the same period showed on average a Conservative lead of 1 point, a swing of 5.5% from Conservative to Labour.

On the face of it, that suggests the Conservatives are doing marginally worse in these seats than in the country as a whole. If that was to happen at an election it would be unusual – parties actually tend to do a bit better than average in seats they gained at the previous election because they have gained the incumbency advantage (the MP’s “personal vote”), and their opponents have lost it, so this would be a particularly poor performance. However, I should add the caveat that it’s just one poll of 500 people, so there is a margin of error of 4% on there. We should not put too much confidence on whether the Conservatives are doing a couple of percentage points better or worse in an area based on a single poll.

More interesting of course would be to be able to look under the bonnet at the different types of seat within those we’ve lumped together as “red wall” seats. Are there different patterns at work in those traditional marginal seats to those former mining and industrial seats that have been part of the bigger red-wall sea-change. There is no particular reason to think that seats like Lincoln or Blackpool South or Gedling would behave any differently to marginal seats elsewhere – but for seats like Sedgefield, Bassetlaw or Bolsover there’s a question of whether the political re-alignment we’ve seen over the last few elections has come to a halt or is still ongoing.

That’s not to say the JLPartners/Channel 4 poll isn’t good stuff – it is – it’s more than it’s only a starting point.

The question people tend to ask on the back of polls like this is whether the Tories need to worry unduly about keeping these seats in their column, and whether Labour can win them back. In that context, it is probably too simplistic to look at them as a single lump. In one sense, obviously these seats will be part of the battleground – but that’s just a truism. These are marginal seats, elections will be always be won and lost in the marginal seats. The more important question is whether these marginal seats are the ones that are most likely to change at the next election, or whether by looking at the fashionable “red wall” seats we miss looking at potentially more vulnerable seats elsewhere?

It may be that the political re-alignment in the true “red wall” seats is so seismic that they actually become safer Tory seats than some of the more traditional marginals. It may be that the more vulnerable Tory seats next time round are actually some more affluent seats with high proportions of graduates. The pattern of key marginals next time round could be those that are similar to North West Bristol or Canterbury, rather than winning back old mining seats.

Northern Tory gains last time weren’t monolithic – it isn’t one single “red wall” – they mix up some traditional marginals, as well as some sea that have seen truly transformational change. We shouldn’t assume they’ll behave as one block, or in the same way in the future either. Equally, we shouldn’t necessarily assume that all the interesting changes at the next election will happen in the same place as the last one. There are risks and opportunities elsewhere too.


7,316 Responses to “On the importance of the “Red Wall” seats”

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  1. @EDGE OF REASON

    IT is one of the industries where the problems of legacy can bite you. Often people write layers of spaghetti code on each other and so many old systems are often largely unstable.

    Often the answer to many of these systems is that you would not start from here but a complete revamp is just too ‘costly’ until the system creaks and black holes itself

    One of the real differences is that more modern systems are design to be ever expandable and often your home computer network can have as much memory and disk space as some public systems. I have worked for a set of companies where I was able to do a back up to my home Disk via VPN as a backup because they literally did not have anywhere to store data. It was then the manager decided that it was better to spend a month installing a new set of servers and NAS and I am not an IT bod but it was pretty simple to set up a new system and transfer all the data. It took a month to sort it all out and actually made taping out easier. in the end.

    Sometimes IT systems are like trying to keep a vintage ford model T going and trying to make it run at formula 1 performance it is not happening and it is not fit for purpose. If you could lose a bunch of data you basically have a broken system no matter how stupid the ‘kids’ are

  2. ON
    “Then there’s the problem of know-all managers insisting that a change is made, despite having been warned by their IT people that it won’t work, will cost them millions to put right etc etc.”

    I’ve seen that a few times, and indeed been one of those IT people. :-)

  3. PTRP
    I had a contract at the Met Office about 23 years ago when they were worried about the Y2K problem. They had millions of lines of FORTRAN code running on a Cray mainframe. Even then not many folks remembered FORTRAN. I worked on the rainfall data as a test case and wrote a program in BASIC if I remember correctly which identified any date-sensitive statements and if necessary converted them to 4-digit dates.
    I asked them why it mattered when no-one expected the forecasts to be right anyway, and was told that they were mainly worried about forecasting wind, because airlines only loaded just enough fuel (with a small margin of error) to get where they were going, and if they hit a headwind when they were expecting a tailwind we could have planes crashing all over the place.
    I don’t suppose they’ve had the resources to convert all that code to something more modern, and I occasionally look for adverts for FORTRAN programmers.
    Enough reminiscing. Goodnight all.

  4. Edge of Reason,
    ” Votes as they were actually cast would have led to a 261-261 tie, with the remaining 16 going mostly to the Libertarian, and the election would have gone to Congress to resolve.”

    To what extend are electoral college voters now bound to their election mandate? (they didnt used to be)

    I would think the original idea was that in a situation like this, voters representing a third candidate who was a clear loser would be free to move their vote to someone else? So they would divide and therefore create a result?

    Such an outcome might allow third party candidates to win more presidential votes, if their candidates had a clear alternate to transfer to.

    ” “i was half right. That was old variant covid. So in effect I am arguing its lethality has increased.”

    In opposition to the scientists again then, who seem to be saying there’s no evidence it’s any more lethal, just more transmissible? ”

    After writing this, I thought actually there is a way it isnt twice as lethal.

    If 1/3 of the population is susceptible to variant #1, they catch it and 0.1% die. Another 1/3 is susceptible to variant #2, catch it and 0.1% die. So each has the same mortality but having outbreaks of one after the other, twice as many die. either one alone would only kill 0.1%.

    It would depend how you classify an outbreak as one particular strain, or look at it overall. We can all die succesively 0.1% at a time and claim it is the same mortality.

    I suggested above simplistically a different 1/3 in each case, but it is clear we will have reinfection and overlap. Hopefully, and i would expect, each time the infection and death proportion falling.

    Pete B
    ” Probability isn’t certainty. 0 is still quite likely, as is 2,3 etc”

    Indeed. Torridge in devon has even lower case numbers than Hastings and strikes as a good candidate for number 2. Theres a dead low patch on N. Norfolk, maybe 3.

  5. Edge of Reason,
    “The unnoticed epidemic also isn’t “evidence” that can be used to support your theory, it’s conjecture by you that’s been derived from it.”

    I know as fact there was an oubreak of a disease with the same symptoms as covid in Hastings in late 2019. That it started approximately with the arrival of someone coming from Wuhan, who immediately fell ill with a flu like disease. This infected a workplace of some 400 people many of whom had the same disease…Or 400 different diseases with the exact same symptoms, take your pick, but how many disease with exact covid symptoms have you ever seen?.

    Older people got it worst. Two rather older and retired people related to those directly involved were hospitalised with flu type disease and pneumonia, without the cause being identified. One of them died.

    All that is fact, but if a doctor now saw those details, they would say there was a big outbreak of covid and do lots of testing.

    And then when the offical epidemic is around everywhere…suddenly no one gets ill with covid. Not at least until new variant arrives and starts reinfecting people.

    I dont know where you could obtain relevant deaths records of the locations to see if there were excess deaths from pneumonia at that time. This is specially published now only for covid deaths. National monitoring for flu is pretty poor, and relies to a large part in detecing the presence of a known strain of some pathogen, but at that time none would have been identified. if there were a couple of hundred excess deaths spread over several months, it would not register on national totals.

    And from there it is to be expected commuters to London would have been gradually spreading the disease to places along the train line, and throughout the capital. Again, it would have taken time for the epidemic to build up large enough to be noticed. No one is bothered about an outbreak of flu… unless deaths become numerous enough and they would not untill enough pensioners became infected.

    once cases started reaching hospitals, then it seems likely there would be a cascade of infections amongst health workers, people in care homes, other hospital patients and the real death toll begins.

    It is possible in Hastings this last stage never really happened. It spread through the general population causing little death of anyone under working age and created herd immuntiy to this strain.

    Milan and Turin in Italy are proven to have had covid for months before anyone noticed. Theyre bigger than Hastings.

    It is possible the panic and disruption immediately before the spring lockdown caused a big increase in the rate of spread, and in particular triggered a wave of deaths at that time which could have been averted by better handling. how this spreads, and whether some means of spread are likely to lead to a milder overall outcome is unknown and uninvestigated as far as I know.

  6. Oldnat,
    “Pete B

    Thanks. I had assumed that the practices you describe would be the norm, but good to have it confirmed.”

    Everyone seems to be missing the point that the reason this data is being deleted is because it is illegal to keep it.

    You would be committing a criminal offence by keeping a backup, and so presumably procedures would be in place to track down and destroy every backup at the same time.

    And so, if you do now produce a backup…that means you nearly did commit a criminal offence, and if a similar backup still exists of other data which was properly deleted, then you would also be admitting that crime.

    (so I expect the spies still have copies but will not admit to it. They probably gave the US copies too)

  7. @PETE B

    I start life programming in FORTEAN since it was the language of the sientist. There are many code bases which ae just compltely broken but no one wants to go into the heart of darkness to figure it out.

    Modern systems and process means that often code is rewritten in it entirety quite often where it is commercially viable bubt often much of the early code is rather bespoke. I remember working fro British Steel and coding in Ada on ferranti systems I did a code clean up once and crashed the system it was hilarious since we found out there was a line in the code that did nothing but it appeared was necessary no one could work out why it seemed to be a bug in the compiler nt literally I ended up putting a huge box of commentary about how this line of code needed to stay no matter what.

    back in the day you coded for small size because storage was precious and expensive now we code for ease and modularity. it is why we have 32 bit processors for washing machines whose functionality has not changed from the 8 bit age but now we code in C rather than machine code for embedded systems.

    These old systems keep going because basically no one want to touch them because if they do they just fall apart. and yet we have not the money to fix them. There is lots of code bases that are like this. One of the scariest is actually modern network code. It s not that Huawei is trying to spy on us it is often that all the code base on networking was written in the stone age and no one wants to change it for fear of it falling apart.

    Just think of the fact that some of the same style of coding is n thing like you average cruise missile and your ICBM

  8. HIRETON, apologises hadn’t spotted your post about importing.

  9. “You would be committing a criminal offence by keeping a backup, and so presumably procedures would be in place to track down and destroy every backup at the same time.”

    If you checked the DPA exemptions, you would find “Law Enforcement” within said exemptions. To my knowledge*, there is no limit on law enforcement data on persons, as long as the data is relevant.

    * My knowledge on the subject is outdated, but given that the police keep crimes open for many decades, the data pertaining to crime will equally be kept open.

    * In addition, the DPA only pertains to data that can identify the living. Records of dead people do not apply within the context of the DPA.

    I’m guessing this isn’t a DPA-related breach, but a simple loss of data, pending a backup restoration. As for the illegality of taking or retaining backups, the ultimate decision lies with the organisation’s information commissioner, who takes responsibility for the organisations information policy, and will should be very well versed with their organisation’s retention requirements.

    The general rule of thumb is to only retain data that is relevant to the purposes of the data retention, i.e. the local delivery service will need your name and address, but not your D.O.B. for its records. Data should be retained for legal and tax-useful reasons etc (usually seven years or less iirc).

    Police and crime is another matter. :)

  10. Clearly a system where exporters simply put goods in a box and sent it via courier wasn’t worth all that lost sovereignty and taken back control.

    Well done brexitoids another bonus ticked off.

    https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/jan/17/shock-brexit-charges-are-hurting-us-say-small-british-businesses

  11. statgeek,
    “My knowledge on the subject is outdated, but given that the police keep crimes open for many decades, the data pertaining to crime will equally be kept open”

    The only reason security forces are deleting such stuff is because it’s illegal to keep it. Why would they otherwise? I assume we have at least officially deleted all the EU security info we are no longer allowed access to as well. Did you miss that in the media? Not sure specifically what it is this current stuff relates to except it happened as part of deletions currently going on.

    This is another brexit problem.

  12. statgeek,
    “My knowledge on the subject is outdated, but given that the police keep crimes open for many decades, the data pertaining to crime will equally be kept open”

    The only reason security forces are deleting such stuff is because it’s illegal to keep it. Why would they otherwise? I assume we have at least officially deleted all the EU security info we are no longer allowed access to as well. Did you miss that in the media? Not sure specifically what it is this current stuff relates to except it happened as part of deletions currently going on.

    This is another brexit problem.

  13. @ OLDNAT- so you now agree that is possible to prioritise groups 1 AND 2

    After a disappointing start to the week the daily numbers have risen significantly as England jan care homes AND 80+ in the community AND health care workers

    Hopefully further increases in daily numbers next week.

    NB I am not commenting on Scotland but if you/other Scot wish to comment on Scotland’s numbers or approach please do.

    @ JJ – yep. Also the risk for LDEM that they longer they wait to find a ‘raison d’etre’ the harder it will be.

    @ CL1945 – I haven’t read a twitter thread on Starmer + Dodds, if it is interesting please post the link

    In polling then Starmer beats Boris but Rishi gets very high approval.

    Hopefully some polling with low CON VI will get the whole team to raise their game, stop scoring own goals and we get the crowd back into the stadium later this year.

    No need to win every poll. It’s more like the World Cup (GEs) that matter and if CON HMG don’t raise their game they will deserve to lose in GE’24

  14. It is not even as if the weather was good in Swansea recently: the level of compliance is high but these are the stories reported. A Psychologist on Radio 4 the other day indicating that the government and the news should be reporting all those people who, despite difficulties, obey the rules!

    https://newspresslive.com/index.php/2021/01/16/police-issue-14-fines-to-people-breaking-coronavirus-rules-in-mumbles/

  15. I’ll say the latest Opinium is an outlier. They are regularly now out of step with the pack.

    YouGov, 04-05 Jan
    Con: 39%
    Lab: 39%
    LDem: 6%
    Grn: 6%
    Oth/DK/WNV: 10%

    Opinium, 06-07 Jan
    Con: 39%
    Lab: 40%
    LDem: 6%
    Grn: 4%
    Oth/DK/WNV: 11%

    SavantaComRes, 08-10 Jan
    Con: 40%
    Lab: 37%
    LDem: 8%
    Grn: 4%
    Oth/DK/WNV: 11%

    Redfield & Wilton, 11 Jan
    Con: 41%
    Lab: 37%
    LDem: 8%
    Grn: 5%
    Oth/DK/WNV: 9%

    Survation, 12-13 Jan
    Con: 40%
    Lab: 38%
    LDem: 7%
    Grn: 5%
    Oth/DK/WNV: 10%

    Oinium, 14-15 Jan
    Con: 37%
    Lab: 41%
    LDem: 6%
    Grn: 4%
    Oth/DK/WNV: 12%

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