IN folklore mythology, the Grim Reaper comes wearing a dark, hooded cloak and carrying a scythe, to warn that nothing lasts forever, not least life itself.
In political reality, however, his contemporary equivalent arguably comes clad in an Armani suit and bearing a laptop with unfavourable opinion survey results. Or so the ‘Conservative’ Party might reasonably fear, after the Focaldata poll published last weekend.
Reported and analysed in the Sunday Times, the poll’s findings are startling. They show that were a general election to be held now, the Tories would lose entirely the 80-seat majority they secured just over a year ago, putting us in hung Parliament territory and therefore almost certainly presaging a Labour / SNP coalition government.
The findings obviously need to be treated with caution. After all, it’s only one poll, the fieldwork for which was done during December and mostly before the conclusion of Johnson’s EU negotiations and his pre-Christmas announcement of his Brexit trade deal. And yes, nearly four years have to elapse before the next general election.
All the same, for Johnson in a mere twelve and a half months to go from an 80-seat majority to an indicated hung Parliament is some collapse, as the eight percentage-point vote loss shows.
Significantly though, that projected 81-seat loss would include no fewer than 35 of the 43 Midlands and Northern ‘Red Wall’ seats which in December 2019 voted Conservative for either the first time in decades, or in some cases for the first time ever.
Perhaps though, one should not be too surprised. At TCW we warned three months ago that the bricks were already falling out of the Tories’ Red Wall, citing evidence that voter opinion in those seats was already turning against them, and that those constituencies’ Tory MPs should recognise the extent to which their newly-acquired support was already becoming restive.
If, as the Focaldata poll suggests, the Tories’ star is already waning electorally and the prospects of them retaining that raft of crucial Midlands and Northern seats are commensurately reducing, then Johnson has only himself to blame.
It’s those Red Wall voters who are disproportionately bearing the brunt of his SAGE-deferential, economy-damaging, authoritarian response to Covid.
An Office for National Statistics analysis found that 17 of those 43 newly-Tory seats were in the top fifth of areas whose labour markets were most reliant on the sectors at prime risk from the impact of the Government’s lockdown response.
High Street retailing in those areas has been badly hit, creating not only an unemployment effect, but a broader adverse economic impact on local area prosperity.
Moreover, with a higher ratio of people in working-class and lower middle-class employment not conducive to home-working than in the relatively affluent South-East, Red Wall voters are arguably more exposed to the virus itself. They’re suffering the exacerbation of the class divide which is a direct consequence of the Johnson government’s approach.
Not for many of them the pleasurable convenience of using laptops in the kitchen with communication with colleagues via Zoom in one of the middle-class cognitive-focused professions while occasionally ordering food and other necessities online.
If not already furloughed on a fraction of their regular pay, those newly-Tory Red Wall voters are relatively more likely to be found in the warehouses despatching the orders or the vans delivering them, or in any number of increasingly precarious workplaces that require physical attendance and face-to-face communication. You can’t work from home via Zoom if you’re a garage forecourt attendant or a self-employed carpenter.
At the same time, their children are more likely to be among those harmed by the growing educational inequality caused by the continuing school closures so insisted upon by the teaching unions, most of whose full-time members have continued to receive full pay, or even an inflation-busting pay rise, in return for not teaching.
In contrast to the children of the affluent middle classes who can afford private education, for whom online substitute education has reportedly been rigorous and fairly successful, 20 per cent of all State school pupils have been doing less than one hour of schoolwork a day, and 93 per cent of them have had four or fewer online lessons a day.
They’re also less likely to come from households with the requisite technology or devices to benefit from what online teaching there is for them.
A half-generation of poor, working-class and lower middle-class children is having its education blighted, with dire consequences for its future employment prospects or social mobility.
No wonder those Red Wall voters who lent their support to the Tories are now, according to their polling responses to Focaldata, withdrawing it in droves. Their jobs are at risk of disappearing, their small businesses are at risk of failing, their towns and neighbourhoods are at risk of declining, and their children are being denied their education.
And as if all that wasn’t bad enough, what do they see the same PM to whom they lent their vote in a leap of faith doing when he isn’t levying on the economy and society draconian restrictions unprecedented in peacetime?
They see him apparently mesmerised by the lockdown enthusiasts who ruefully but mistakenly thought they’d never get away with imposing in Europe the authoritarianism of a communist one-party state.
They see a Boris Johnson seemingly in thrall to the eco-fanatic Green lobby and the World Economic Forum’s globalist-elite, anti-democratic, technocratic-totalitarian Great Reset – his use of the movement’s standard and sinister ‘Build Back Better’ slogan being a giveaway – and looking forward eagerly to the crony-corporatist boondoggles designed to promote and accelerate its agenda.
No doubt some of them also recall a Boris Johnson who seemed, if not to go AWOL, then at least to be somewhat reticent in 2020 when it came to standing up against the anti-capitalist cultural Marxism and anti-white racial identitarianism of the extreme and even so-called ‘Liberal’ Left.
As well as being unimpressed with his Covid measures, maybe those Midlands and Northern voters also aren’t keen on Johnson’s apparent reluctance to challenge and reject the Woke-Left identity politics intent on trashing their culture, or on his slavish embrace of the Green agenda likely to make their energy scarcer and more expensive, and they see little chance of his making their 2021 any better.
At TCW, we’ve already remarked of Johnson that seldom in modern political history can so much newly-acquired electoral advantage, and with it a rare opportunity to realign UK politics, have been so recklessly and needlessly squandered in so short a time.
We now appear to have been at least provisionally joined in this by the Conservative-leaning think-tank Onward, whose recent research concludes that unless the Tories fulfil their ‘levelling up’ promises to their new electoral demographic, they risk forfeiting their 80-seat majority.
If last weekend’s Focaldata poll turns out to be accurate, it looks like Red Wall Tory voters have already pre-empted the decision. And who can blame them?