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The Tories win the locals

Updated: May 9, 2021

"The Tories' new voter coalition is broad enough for them to keep winning elections for sometime."

HBC The result:

The 2021 election produced a clear win for the Conservative Party, with Labour losing seats and the Greens picking up votes and one seat. Hastings was no exception to this rule, in fact, it followed the national trend quite clearly. This trend, although new to local government, is not new to British politics as the 2019 election already produced such trends. Therefore, these elections are a continuation of the political landscape 2019 gave us. Worryingly for Labour, this presents the leadership with the problem of having not improved from the awful position they were left. Meanwhile, the Conservatives will take comfort from the fact the winning electoral coalition they formed in 2019 is still sticking with them in key areas, meaning that they stay the most likely party to win the parliamentary seat in 2024.

The Conservatives and their winning voter coalition:

Figure 1 - Age, the Tory vote and the HBC results, older areas vote Tory, younger districts back Labour.

Looking at figure 1, it can be stated that the Conservatives have continued to perform well in seats that have older electorates. In 2019 the Tories gained their former key marginal seats but also acquired older areas that tended to have voted to leave the EU. The four seats of St Helens, Baird, Silverhill and Ore do very much fit this profile. St Helens is a former middle-England key marginal the Tories have won back from Labour, whilst Baird, Silverhill and especially Ore also fit the older Leave area profile. In my time covering the EU referendum, I certainly recall these areas containing a high proportion of Leave voters. Therefore, the Tories appear to be most likely to gain older areas off Labour that were more likely to have backed Leave, a trend that has been the case since 2019.

Further to this, the areas the Conservatives gained tended to have a lower attainment score, indicating more voters have lower qualification levels than compared to the seats they held in 2018. Moreover, these seats tended to have more manual and self-employed workers, with fewer professional-level employees. This means that the Conservatives' gains also contained voters with lower incomes than compared to seats they held in 2018, making them on average more deprived than areas they have historically represented. This again fits the leave voting profile, suggesting the 2019 Leave/Remain divide that benefitted the Tories in 2019 has continued to help them in Hastings during the 2021 elections.

Labour continues to get squeezed:

Figure 2 - proportion of traders and routine workers by Conservative vote - HBC 2021 elections.

Figure 2 demonstrates Labour's problem with older working-class areas. As witnessed in the 2019 election Labour lost areas that contain more working-class voters, and this trend has continued into the 2021 election. As the seats the Tories gained off Labour contain more traders, self-employed individuals and manual workers, commonly described as the working-class, it is not surprising to find that Labour's vote declined heavily in these areas. In Baird it fell by 17%, St Helens 15%, Ore 12%, and Silverhill 11. These seats again fit the profile of being either older, more working-class and more reliant on self-employed roles, see table 1. Further, a couple of seats Labour lost, Baird and Ore have a very low education score, indicating poor attainment and greater levels of deprivation. Along with this, Labour lost votes heavily in a similar ward they just held onto, Wishing Tree, where their majority declined by 30%. This all again highlights Labour's continued problems of securing deprived areas with fewer voters having gained higher-level qualifications, just as occurred in 2019 with Labour's Red Wall collapse. Again, these areas most likely backed Leave quite heavily, indicating Labour's Brexit problem will likely linger on, despite the Brexit debate ending.

The Green and the Lib-Dem problem on the other side:

Whilst Labour suffered losses to the Tories in older areas with more voters in working-class occupations they also lost voters to the Greens. The Greens gained 10% in 5 seats and 9% in a further 2 seats. Yet, in the other seats, they only gained around 5% or less. The most common difference to where the Greens could make significant gains comes down to a combination of socio-economic factors. The Greens tended to make more gains in areas with more youthful educated populations that also contained more professional-level workers. In contrast, the Greens made smaller gains in areas that tended to contain more older, self-employed/ manual workers. Finally, in terms of the seat they gained off Labour, Old Hastings, this seat very much reflected a more Remain, younger, higher occupation affluent part of the town. The extreme reflection of this precise demographic, alongside a popular candidate who ran a long campaign after the emergence of a proposed unpopular development in the town, was enough to push the Greens well over the line. Therefore, Labour was losing heavily to the Greens in certain seats, (Remain areas), whilst also losing votes to the Tories in Leave areas, squeezing Labour into an almost impossible political position.

Figure 3 - Green increase most prominent amongst younger professionals


Interestingly, the same divide witnessed in 2019 appears to have been replicated in the 2021 HBC elections. Left-liberal leaning parties did better in more affluent southern areas with greater numbers of younger higher-occupational class workers. In contrast, such parties did worse in working-class older areas. Right-pro Brexit parties, the Tories, instead made gains in older areas that reflected a more working class background. Importantly, for Labour, this meant they were losing votes to the Tories in older voter Leave districts, whilst they also lost to the Greens in younger Remain areas with more workers residing in higher class occupations. This squeezing from both the Remain culturally Liberal-Left and the Leave culturally conservative right was key to Labour losing as many votes as they did. The Green's increase, as impressive as it was, did not cover all of Labour's losses. Therefore, Conservative and Green gains presents a very serious challenge to Labour. It particularly presents the question of how does Labour get seats like Baird and Ore back without alienating those who voted Green this time around? The Far-left in Labour will argue the move to the centre under Starmer is the cause of the problems, while "moderates" will state Corbyn has damaged the party for a generation and made it unelectable for some time. Yet, as I hope this article has shown, Labour's problems are longer-term and deep-rooted. It requires Labour to change so it can listen to different communities that feel abandoned. Moreover, it requires a broad new narrative that can transcend the Brexit divide and can bring the groups they lost back together, no easy task. Labour will face uncertain times ahead, but the Tories will look fondly upon 2021 as it shows that they can take their 2019 winning coalition into the next general election, making them clear favourites for 2024.

Appendix: The Full result breakdown.

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