The Conservatives were able to break through the ‘red wall’ of Labour seats in Yorkshire by winning over Brexit Party supporters and older voters, new analysis has revealed.
As the the nine new Tory MPs representing the region took their place in the Commons, think-tank Onward published a report showing how the party was able to take former Labour strongholds such as Don Valley, Rother Valley and Wakefield.
Polling done in Yorkshire in early November and a week before last week’s General Election shows that the Conservatives gained more voters than Labour from other parties, with Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party suffering the biggest drop.
Meanwhile a separate poll by YouGov showed that older voters swung the election for Boris Johnson, who yesterday held out an olive branch to his defeated political opponents with an offer to find common ground to heal the divisions of Brexit.
While the majority of younger voters backed Labour, the Conservatives were overwhelmingly ahead among their older compatriots, a national survey of 40,000 adults revealed.
The Conservatives now hold 26 of the seats in Yorkshire and the Humber, compared with just seven when Tony Blair was elected Prime Minister in 1997
And Yorkshire-born former Tory leader Lord Hague claimed his party could maintain their grip on seats like Rother Valley, which had previously voted Labour for more than a century, if it improved the prospects of the North by boosting transport links and vocational skills.
He wrote in the Daily Telegraph yesterday: “Like an army that captures territory deep behind enemy lines, the Tories have won a victory that is both more far-reaching and more fragile than any of recent decades.
“It has taken 30 years for these most loyal of voters to turn against Labour, slowly disconnected from it by discontent with immigration, and pushed over the edge by the combination of failure to accept Brexit and a drift to extremism.”
The analysis by Onward, a centre-right think tank, shows that so-called ‘Workington man voters’, named after the town in Cumbria and used to describe non-university educated, Leave-backing men aged 45 and over in the North and Midlands, swung behind Mr Johnson last week.
Some 77 per cent of this group voted for the Conservatives compared with 42 per cent in 2015.
In Yorkshire, the number of people intending to vote Conservative rose by 7.4 per cent between early November and early December as the party repeated its ‘get Brexit done’ message, with Labour’s vote across the region rising by 4.5 per cent. All the other parties saw their vote share slip during the same period, with the Brexit Party falling from 14.8 per cent to 5.9 per cent.
Onward said a collapse in the Labour vote from 2017 to 2019 was also vital to seats like Don Valley, Wakefield and Redcar turning blue.
Director Will Tanner said: "This research shows Yorkshire didn't just vote Conservative, they switched to the Conservatives during the race - as part of a much broader realignment of electoral geography. It is a historic result - and a huge responsibility for the Tories to make the North their own."
Conservative Jason McCartney, who won back his old seat in Colne Valley from Labour, attributed the result to a “wholesale rejection of Jeremy Corbyn and everything he stood for”. He said: “It was not just people who voted for Brexit who voted for us but people who voted for Remain. My constituents were saying they respected the democratric result [in the 2016 referendum].”
Despite its vote share falling, the Brexit Party’s candidate in York Central, Nick Szkiler, says his party “changed the UK political climate” by turning public opinion away from a second referendum. He said: “Thanks in no small part to us we have a government with a healthy majority. Time will tell if Boris actually frees us from the EU institutions. He has a mandate to do so and we’ll be watching to see that he fulfils his promises.”