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.

12,042 Responses to “On the importance of the “Red Wall” seats”

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  1. BFR wrote
    It would be dangerous to assume – without evidence – that these handful of exclusions are all those Daily Mail columnists who love to write long columns in national newspapers about how they are being prevented from expressing their views…

    Me, hehehe

  2. BFR wrote
    It would be dangerous to assume – without evidence – that these handful of exclusions are all those Daily Mail columnists who love to write long columns in national newspapers about how they are being prevented from expressing their views…

    Me, hehehe

  3. @TW

    You give yourself away by posting a link to statistics on vaccinations that do not even deal with age cohorts!!!! You can hardly refute comments on cohorts from that link.

    Maybe you should check your verbal flow before posting.

    And then you compound that lack of judgement, by referring to Hancock and Johnson`s promise for the whole UK being judged by the numbers for England and Wales.

    So the rest of us don`t matter. Johnson can spin his promises as being for the whole UK, but only people in Tory England can decide on their accuracy or them being another example of over-promising.

    Thanks to ON for today`s real update.

  4. Further to my post yesterday on my experiences with T&T… It’s struck me that the vast majority of positive cases I deal with are born in the 80s/90s/00s. I’m talking over 80%.

    They suffer cold/flu symptoms, headaches and fatigue, and sometimes the usual cough, but some have no symptoms at all and most get over it in a few days.

    Perhaps this is the vaccine having an effect, plus some immunity built up in the 40-70 year olds?

    Could also be explained by the fact that younger people are the ones still working in shops, building sites, takeaways etc while the older are retired or WFH.

  5. @TOH – “I of course don’t consider you.part of an oppressive right wing regime..”

    For the avoidance of doubt, no one said you or @colin were, or that the UK government was.

    It was just our Colin being a bit of a daftie, again, as increasingly is his wont.

  6. Alec: It was just our Colin being a bit of a daftie, again

    I don’t know why people make stuff up. You’d think that the exposure and subsequent rapid departure of CBX1985 would have given pause for thought in that regard.

  7. “This tunnel between the mainland and Ulster is a marvellous idea, just the sort of can do optimism Boris is famed for. This is the sort of gung ho approach we need now the EU is behind us.”

    Maybe you and the rest of the Brexit-voting gardeners can dig for victory. Or how about a few extra pennies on the pound of savings tax to pay for it all? That would help.

  8. Davwel

    I noted a prof on Sky News last night making the fairly obvious point that talking about doses “offered” was somewhat meaningless in epidemiological terms or in the context of saving individual lives.

    All that really matters is getting actual doses into the arms of actual people.

    In all parts of the UK, there has been a good level of inoculation take-up for many years, but there have been variations.

    For the MMR jag, for example, take up in Scotland, NI and NE England was 95%, but only 83% in London. That does suggest that some health systems in the UK might face more of a challenge than others in achieving high take-up rates for Covid vaccines.

    One of the many reasons why those idiot politicians who were obsessed with making political capital out of the rate of offering vaccinations are, indeed, idiots – and dangerous ones at that.

  9. @Oldnat


    (Though my point was simply that as Pfizer was more expensive and harder to store, and possibly also more effective, that they might have kept that for those who had already had Pfizer in their first dose, rather than for 64 year olds like me)

  10. Alec

    Sorry to break ranks but I do consider that our current government has many of the elements of an oppressive right wing regime.

    Undermining parliamentary democracy, disregarding constituent nations, l!ying to the head of sate, threatening to break the law , illegal prorogation of the commons, nepotism, corruption, cronyism and undermining our public service news organisations .
    It’s quite a list.

  11. Mind you the same things could of course be done by an oppressive left wing regime.

  12. @Statgeek

    The tunnel is a really stupid idea. Gift for the IRA

  13. ‘The tunnel is a really stupid idea. ‘

    Totally agree. No real economic rationale, done for political reasons not for the good of the national economy.

    We are getting into zillions of pounds in debt due to the pandemic and we are then meant to spend zillions of pounds for a vanity project especially when increasingly the tide is turning for NI to rejoin Ireland. It’s not there yet but by the time the tunnel was built it may well be…

  14. @Wolf



    “I don’t know why people make stuff up. ”

    You mean Steve’s 3.27. I agree with you i don’t know why people make such nonsense up.

  16. TOH: i don’t know why people make such nonsense up.

    Steve was expressing a political opinion, which is what you do all the time.

    What I was talking about was alleging that someone had posted something here, and presenting that as a quote, when no such remark had been made.

  17. TOH
    Given this is a forum where people express there political opinions I am.somewhat surprised that an individual who exercises this facility every day is surprised when another contributor does the same.

    Or is it that opinions need to be within the remit of conservative bias to some how be acceptable.

    Maybe a overtly right wing forum like the daily mail or conservative home would be more to your taste.

    I quite enjoy the variety of opinions.

    Incidentally my 3.27 is of course backed up by recorded actions of your government.


    It is interesting that you have characterised that patel may have used the wrong words. whilst many people disapprove about the way that this was done. They actually approved the fact that it was removed

    I have wrote extensively about the coulston and in deed one of the real issues has been that much of the conversation about race is often between people of the same colour.

    I notice that there is often very little debate with myself for example about the issue and I previous shown polls and also the history of the Coulston statue.

    So firstly I think that Patel statement was the usual deflection of the major issue which was why when there was extensive local support that a plaque could not be placed stating the history of Coulston rather than the white washing of History that has occured. it is why I suspect that the issue of race is seen from such a polarising lense because if you check with black people as to the case and indeed the majority of Bristolians they were glad in the end that the statue was removed and moreover they believe the lack of action on what was clearly seen as reasonable and supported by a majority ended up point of conflict
    I remind people that the Coulston Statue issue was something that has been going on for over 20 years That a majority support the idea of the Coulston statue being taken down is missed from your commentary speaks volumes as to the issue. That in the same poll the majority of BAME support BLM is again missed from your commentary and as I have pointed out in terms of polling the rationale for such not only did this spark changes for example Coulston primary school was renamed Montpellier Primary School and the Coulston Hall was renamed Bristol Beacon.

    So inlight of this here are some qusstions that I would want to be asked:

    Given the history of the issue and I believe I have linked in the past a number of polls about the Coulston Statue. I don’t see this as an issue of how you seem to wish to label as woke. Which is the comfortable moniker for the right to label anything that they seem to feel will trigger those will in ignorance of certain situations

    I also notice on this site that only those on the left tend to engage with my posts the last time you engaged with me on this you decided to try patio and tell me I was not black which pretty much is what I think Clive Lewis problem with the some of the jingoism that surrounds our interpretation of History.

    I often get annoyed at the Coulston Statue being used as this sort of woke football by especially new model tories like yourself. As I don;t believe it solves the debate.

    lastly as general point Yougov poll points to more people talking about race but not with people of other races but amongst themselves Iremember that when Coulston and BLM first hit the stage some of the RoC commentator were pinging messages to each other regarding Coulston I think someone wrote Well if it was a problem they could have gone abut it differently.. Having spent time explain the issue i decide that the preconceived ideas remain first and no one wanted to engage.

    <y own view is simple we are only talking about some of the issues because of BLM. I have stated before that one of the best speeches on race was actually performed by Theresa May who commented on the race audit and there was a BBC article that pointed out whow discrimination was alive and well in the UK.

    What I also would point to is that many people on Johnson commitee investigating race are not those which many in the DAME community have confidence and many actually were in denail of the data and May's speech. It was something I brought up with COLIN at the time when I pointed out Trevor Philips does not really speak with any authrority for many BAME.

    As to Patels comments. I am full of unsurprise. Interestingly Sunak response to the issue was much more nuanced and pointed to the issues that were pertaining.

    I think much of the issue about BLM seems to be about BLM rather than why the hell BLM actually exists and why despite why people are strongly interested in the concept since for those on the right it represents something rather different compared to BAME people at least as can be seen by the polling

    lastly this basically is why I think the polling does not really help. AS O used the immigration versus immigrants polls that was summarised in the guardian article that I have cited several times over my time here/ None of these polls seeks to ask why which is part of the problem that I think is missing.

    We tend to lack the objective context as t why people think that way.

    What I found most interesting was that when National Trust decided to add more information as to where and how many items came in to being as usual we found a lot of connections to slavery. I found the huge cries of people saying they did not want to know this one of the problems that surrounded the issue of Coulston. Indeed because people had not been told of the real history of places like Bristol which was built on the slave trade I found that often the issue was not one of historical accuracy but one of how some people felt about their country. it pushes the issue of denial to the fore. It therefore makes some slogans seem amplify the otherness.

    Coulston said to me something that is rather sad in politics. That there was genera agreement on getting a plaque but that was sold as 'wokeness tend to push people into more militant action which amplifies not the initial issue but the the fact that this becomes political battle not about the issue at hand but the slogans.

    If this is theface of our politics then I believe we will have no have good policy as we are seeing with the idea that Bristol Council under proposed laws could not remove pr modify the statue even with overwhelming local support but would need a government minister to decide.

  19. @Steve and @TOH – I wouldn’t characterize the current UK government in those terms, but I would agree (it’s not deniable) that they are adopting some elements of factual distortion and abuse of history that are common traits of unpleasant regimes.

    As @Steve alludes to, these aren’t left or right, but tactical denigrations of political discourse.

    So we have the government today attacking ‘wokeness’, instead of supporting a more rounded appreciation of our history, good and bad, such that there is more space for British citizens of differing backgrounds to feel more proud to be British. We also today have another sign that non political bodies, like press regulators, human rights commissions, charitable bodies, etc, are being stuffed with political appointees.

    It would be great, if, for example, our resident RoC contributors on here could all condemn the fact that one of Britain’s most eminent historians, Prof Mary Beard, was apparently blocked from a government appointed trusteeship of the British Museum, apparently for her pro Brexit views (which are completely unconnected to the running of the museum) while openly pro IRA violence Claire Fox is given a seat in the House of Lords by Johnson because she backed Brexit.

    This is all part of a pattern of ‘cleansing’ public bodies, that should be as far as possible non political.

  20. Well at least the COVID numbers are looking good; we continue to see new case volumes dropping by ~30% per week – just 10,972 today, which is the lowest daily figure since 4th October, and the lowest 7 day average since 9th October.

    Those inn hospital with COVID are also down again, to around 23,000 (against a peak of ~40,000).

    It’s definitely too early to relax restrictions, but there are clear signs that the lockdown, with some benefits from vaccination rates, is reducing has forced R well below 1.

    Quite promising….

  21. JAMES E
    that’s the end of that then ‘cuz you’d be crazy to cross a Scottish dyke in the current climate.

    I’d have landed up down the lane in a Molly house I’m afraid, or the public loo in St. Martin’s – so our paths wouldn’t have crossed at a brothel (which I’m certain you’d only ever have frequented to save the wretched soul of one or two fallen women.)

  22. Firstly it should be recognised that all 4 nations have done a fantastic job on vaccine roll-out. 15million+ first doses is a great achievement.

    We know the issue of ‘hesitancy’ amongst BAME so some facts:

    BAME % by polity:

    London: 40%
    England: 14%
    Wales: 4%
    Scotland: 4%

    Anyone who wants to claim Boris and Hancock have failed to meet the target can shout that as loud as they like. We see the polling on vaccines and credit being given where credit is due so I’m sure CCHQ will be very happy if some rabid partisan folks want to say Scotland might be a day or so late and hence Boris and Hancock failed to meet their target – go for it ;)

    PS Congrats to Scotland for having such a high % of white people and getting near 100% take-up. If that means Scotland is a day or so late then fair enough. We can always also blame the weather of course.

  23. @ BFR – “It’s definitely too early to relax restrictions”

    Of course. Even the Arch-CRG types (Harper, Baker, Brady, etc) are not demanding anything before 8Mar and then ‘phased’ and ‘gradual’ after that.

    3weeks with R=0.75 (hopefully lower in admissions and deaths as vaccine impact kicks in)

    We’re on track to be at around 600 admissions per day (and heading down) with under 10k patients in hospital (it’s roughly sum of last 10days admissions) by 8Mar

    NB CRG and there #Road2recovery is based on vaccine roll-out but I hope we can all agree that we want numbers as low as possible before 8Mar, get kids back in school and gradually unlock more of the socio-economy from there.

  24. Just listening to the 6 pm R4 news with a headline given to the “extra-ordinary” achievement of the UK government in vaccinating all the over-70s in ENGLAND for covid.

    And simultaneously reading a message from my son just back at work in Dubai today. He has had to take a new CV test, since the folk in UAE simply don`t trust Johnson, – they think he is a serial fibberr and exaggerates the UK statistics.

    They laugh at Johnson claiming to be a world beater when the UAE has vaccinated twice as many people in relation to population as the UK. And Isreal is even further in front.

    I am sad that having Johnson as PM has so tarnished the UK`s reputation around the world. How we get treated by these literate, numerate countries depends greatly on our reputation and we have been going downhill fast, an example being Johnson and the Tories trying to break the EU WA.

  25. Davwel,

    Yes but perhaps low esteem abroad helps the VI within the UK.

  26. STEVE

    “Maybe a overtly right wing forum like the daily mail or conservative home would be more to your taste.”

    Not at all, I don’t consider the DMail right wing anymore since the change of editor although i would accept it is slightly to the RoC.

    I have no problem with you posting your political opinion, you have every right to do so, as i have to say it’s rubbish if that’s what i think. You do that all the time.

    I am happy to leave it to the polls to tell us how the voters are thinking, that is what this site is for.

  27. I thought that I might have got a rejoinder from the Tufton Street cabal, but as employees they might well have packed up for the night.

    Anyway, in case they again tr to cast doubt on my numeracy, here is a link:

    Maybe the TSc were in a hurry with their last message but it was either badly worded or betraying an ashaming view, to praise Scotland as having a high proportion of white people. I.e. Very few BAME.

  28. Although it is not a poll but an exit poll, in Kosovo (where in the last 10 years none of the governments could survive their time, and where this is the third election in 1.5 years) the social democrats won with more than half of the votes (it went on with an anti-corruption, anti-elite campaign).

  29. Davwel

    To be fair, “UKGov” is responsible for a number of matters only in England, when it is acting as UKGE.

    That it also frequently gives confusing reports – eg mixing “UK” and “England-only” numbers in its daily briefings – is a matter of regret, but such selective use of data is far from unusual in politics, though the level of incompetence and/or corruption in such matters as awarding PPE procurement contracts is certainly regrettable.

    There are certainly demographic challenges in vaccination programmes achieving high uptake in different places.

    I expect the Trevs to be issuing warm congratulations to the UAE for vaccinating such a high proportion of its citizens, despite having comparatively few “white” people.

  30. To the previous (Kosovo).

    The elections took place because the Constitutional Court declared that the vote for the previous government (based on a party coalition against the social democrats) was unconstitutional as one of the MPs who was sentenced for misappropriation of €26,000 through a civic organisation (just imagine if it was applied here) shouldn’t have voted according to the constitution.

  31. How well is Starmer doing? Find out in the new thread…

  32. New


  33. @ Oldnat
    (A belated response as I was waiting to see if Lady Valerie would respond.]

    (1). “You are confusing legislation with ordinary discourse. That is one of the factors that makes resolving a complex issue of competing right harder.”
    Tosh. I wasn’t confusing anything. I noted that the more congruence between the two the better, & that calling women who give birth “persons” in legislation served no useful purpose, either in legislation or ordinary discourse. Of course in this case I was transgressing SNP policy, a matter of great significance to its loyal supporters but of utter indifference to me.

    (2) “Still, your ability to read the minds of others [i.e., Lady Valerie] and to discern their intention is quite astounding, and I yield to you on that front.”
    More tosh. The irony, which obviously escaped you, is that your post did EXACTLY what you just criticised me for in the quotation above! i.e., you attributed views & intentions to Lady Valerie which she didn’t hold or express, as she confirmed in her later (rather anguished) post.
    A further irony is apparently that she didn’t muddle her Howards at all, if indeed she is correct that TOH is posting under multiple identities. I wonder if the two Howards are the same age.

  34. Good early afternoon Steve.
    Do you have a list of the sort of seats which Lab needs to win back in order to deprive Cons of the majority in the House?

  35. Good early afternoon Steve.
    Do you have a list of the sort of seats which Lab needs to win back in order to deprive Cons of the majority in the House?

    Hello to you.
    Do you think that the appeal of the current Tory Government is that the fiscal policy approach is to the left of Labour, combined with a socially conservative approach to culture as well as a ‘national’ approach to foreign policy? As some people on UKPR say, it is a New Model Tory Party which Keir Starmer has to face.

    Do ‘Rishi’ and ‘Boris’ come over to Labour’s lost C2/D/E voters in the towns outside the cities as more attractive and approachable than Labour, either under Jeremy and John ‘Mac’ or the current front bench?

  37. @Chris

    A lot of these new voters up North love Donald Trump.

  38. With regards to the Green Vote. Labour must now realise they must embrace electoral reform. Both National and local. If they did that it would be a game changer at the next election

  39. With regards to the Green Vote. Labour must now realise they must embrace electoral reform. Both National and local. If they did that it would be a game changer at the next election

  40. Colin

    As I read it, Jean Castex is asking deputies to consider compulsory vaccination, “at least for care workers”. it’s a bit more nuanced than the quote from The Times suggests.

  41. I guess it has come to the stage where existing restrictions are making very little difference with the number of cases, and not much different is going to occur if they are all removed. When people see full crowds at Euro 2020 matches, and Wimbledon courts very full with no distancing it sends the message to the wider world that restrictions count for very little so non compliance is all the more.
    Dont forget that schools break up on the lockdown date so in the weeks after cases wont rise much or even fall due to less mixing at schools and less testing of children every week.

  42. ‘With regards to the Green Vote. Labour must now realise they must embrace electoral reform. Both National and local. If they did that it would be a game changer at the next election’

    Why would it be a gamechanger? Firstly the election would be held on the current system. Secondly the green vote is basically low (bar Brightonish) and the government is moving in this area. Big green changes are costly which will scare the middle ground where elections are won or lost. (Increase cost of oil / petrol, demand air source heat pumps and so on…) So, committed Greens will vote Green – or not. Labour embracing Green would probably turn off its rightish Labour voters and make them non-voter or Conservative voters.

    Electoral reform? The vast voting majority don’t care – so Labour embracing a policy which none cares about is a way for Labour to lose.

    Labour to win? It’s left side lost the last election under Corbyn due to its whole hearted support of wokeism so Labour should chuck stupid wokeism and embrace rational, traditional values which the centre supports.

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