Tom Lees: Why age is an increasing electoral headache for the Conservatives in Yorkshire

Tom Lees, managing director at Bradshaw Advisory
Tom Lees, managing director at Bradshaw Advisory
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As polling in The Yorkshire Post reveals falling support for the two main parties in the region, Tom Lees, managing director of reputation and government affairs firm Bradshaw Advisory looks at a hidden threat to Boris Johnson.

Although many commentators talk about how politics has become polarised around how you voted in the EU referendum, another major polarisation is going on - age.

The polling done by Survation shows that in Yorkshire the Labour Party is more popular than the Conservatives with every single age group except for pensioners. And this electoral headache for the Tories is getting worse.

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A recent report by the think tank Onward showed that the age at which voters are more likely to vote Conservative has increased from 47 at the last General Election to 51 today. Labour is becoming more and more reliant on younger voters and the opposite is happening for the Conservatives.

The three most marginal and hard-fought seats in Yorkshire are Keighley (Labour), Pudsey (Conservative) and Calder Valley (Conservative). The trends show that over the next few

years all of these seats should become easier for the Conservatives to win, whereas Leeds, Huddersfield and York Central are going to become even more impenetrable Labour

strongholds.

Of course, there have always been differences in views between the generations but the gap seems to be growing. Younger people traditionally have been more left wing, becoming more

right wing over time as they start earning and purchase a home.

What today’s polling shows is that both parties’ standing in Yorkshire is despite their current leaders.

For either party to win a majority and break through the age barrier they need to own the centre ground. That does not mean a bunch of wishy-washy dull policies and fence sitting.

On the contrary it means taking bold policy decisions that are generally popular. Controlling immigration, being tough on crime, building more good homes, reducing taxes on working

people, making public services more efficient, tackling corporatism and looking after the environment are popular with people across the political spectrum and age ranges.

The last few furious weeks of policy announcements show that Boris Johnson understands the predicament he is in. He’s on a mission to rehabilitate the Conservative brand and try

and claim these issues of broad appeal.

This has put Labour in a tricky predicament of how best to combat policies that most people agree with. Over recent weeks we have had the perverse situation where Labour has argued against creating more prison places, complaining that Northern Powerhouse Rail between Leeds and Manchester wasn’t enough and calling the extra money for the NHS a “smash and grab raid”.

Of course you expect the opposition to object, but if Labour isn’t careful they might find themselves on the wrong side of public opinion and struggle to win a majority even though they currently have an age advantage.

Tom Lees is managing director for Bradshaw Advisory