By George Ware
A working-class Tory. That’s not something you hear every day. Since the creation of the Labour party, the idea of a working person to vote for a conservative was but a legend. There were mythical tales of such events taking place but only on a solar eclipse or if the planets aligned, or at least that’s what you’d think used to happen given the current reaction to such a thing happening in the modern political climate. The same can be said going the other way with upper middle class people deciding to vote for Labour. That being said, there has been a definite increase in the amount of people that are “switching sides”. It is much more common to see a person voting against the party their class stereotype says they should support, but why? There were stereotypes for a reason weren’t there? Labour was founded to help the working class and the Conservatives’ low tax approach has always been a favourite with the wealthy, so what’s changed?
In more recent elections, there have been some surprise exchanges of what would have been considered safe seats. Labour lost northern strongholds in places like Copeland, Derbyshire, and Macclesfield while the Conservatives lost ground in southern areas like Canterbury. What could be causing this fairly recent change in opinions? One of the key reasons for this transition suggested by Julia Partheymueller, a German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) Lecturer at the University of Essex and voting behaviour researcher, is globalisation and Brexit. She theorises that globalisation and the opportunity of a Brexit Referendum has played a key factor in the end of class voting. “Analyses have shown that the vote to leave the European Union was among other considerations strongly driven by the wish to reduce immigration – one of the significant side-effects of globalisation”. While immigration, which mainly effected the working class, was one reason for leaving the European Union, there were also the economic, business, and sovereignty issues. Both the working class and the middle to upper classes are affected by these different reasons for leaving or staying in the European Union but, rather oddly, the issues regarding the different classes have been taken up by their opposite parties in some cases.
Julia Partheymueller goes on to say that “the Conservative party has promised to execute the national-level approach to controlling immigration, willing to take the UK out of the EU to accomplish that. Labour has struggled to re-define its-self as the cosmopolitan alternative because many traditional Labour voters had voted to leave the EU in the referendum. Still, in the general election, Labour became the party standing for a “soft Brexit” that would assure access to the single market. As a result, even traditional Labour strongholds that voted Leave fell into the hands of the Conservatives, whereas on the other side, Labour was able to succeed in some of the Remain constituencies that previously had voted Conservative”.
As a result, class voting is beginning to disappear because the issues of modern politics cross the typical class lines. Although you are still more likely to vote a certain way based on your class, this is changing. Class politics is beginning to fade away and is instead being replaced by something else. Age. Depending on how old you are, you’re much more likely to vote a certain way. The Deputy Leader of the Colchester Borough Council and runner up for the Colchester constituency, where Labour saw a surprise surge in support, Councillor Tim Young agrees that age had become a key factor in how you are likely to vote. “In 2017 there was definitely an age divide. Labour won in all age groups up to 49 and the Tories were ahead in age groups older than that. In fact, the younger you were the more Labour was ahead and the older you were it was vice versa. Labour did very well in university towns and in London and in many seats where there had been a large ‘Remain’ vote in the EU referendum. The Tories did better than expected in some predominantly white, working class seats but the old UKIP vote seemed to divide fairly equally across the country. I believe that partially explains why the Tories gained Mansfield and a seat in Middlesbrough and why Labour was able to gain Canterbury and Kensington & Chelsea”. To find out more about how voting is affected by your age, I talked to Liam Gallagher, the President of the University of Essex Conservative Future Society, in order to see how a young person’s age determines if they are more likely to vote a certain way. When asked about if class or age effects the way someone votes, Mr Gallagher replied “I’d consider the fact that politics among the young has never been particularly about class. It has always seemed more ideologically based. Lots of young middle-class people are drawn to socialism, something which tends to correct itself once they grow up and pay taxes.”
While class voting my not be the most adequate way of predicting how people will vote anymore, the question remains if it will come back. We know that the EU Referendum and the following Brexit negations have been a driving force in the reduction of traditional class voting because aspects of Brexit like immigration has split both the left and right wing, but what happens when its all over? Although it may feel like Brexit will go on for ever, the United Kingdom will be leaving the EU in march 2019 and when or if that happens, will we revert back to the kind of class voting we saw before Brexit? Issues brought up by Brexit are polarising and it seems that sectors from each side of the spectrum are becoming disenfranchised with their traditional party for their opinion on Brexit but once the dust has settled and the before mentioned issues stabilise, there is a good chance people may just go back to their stereotypical party. If your working class and have negative views on immigration so vote Tory at the election to support Brexit, you would go back to Labour eventually because they are supposed to be the party that benefits your interests the most.
All in all, the whole situation seems to look like this. Class, before Brexit, effected how you would vote. If you were working class you voted Labour and if you voted Conservative its because your upper class. The middle class, especially since the Blair era centralised the Labour party, became the typical swing voters. Age is also a key factor in how someone votes. The younger they are the more likely they will support Labour, as seen by typical voting on university campuses, and visa versa. However, with the introduction of Brexit, typical left or right wing issues were put on the back burner. Cross party issues have become the main talking points and therefore all the classes are more likely to vote for the opposition party rather than what would be expected of them. This has caused the appearance of an end to class politics but, when the issues and repercussions of Brexit have settled, the likelihood is that we will revert to the way things were. When the Conservatives and Labour begin to slide back along the political spectrum back to how they were in the late 20th century, as their current leaders appear to be doing, the middle class will begin to have less of an easy time to decide who to vote for and a new or revitalised party, such as the Liberal Democrats, may take the slack left behind.