Forget the boundaries and focus on urban voters

August 8, 2012

Has Nick Clegg handed Ed Miliband the keys to Downing Street? Most political commentators believe that killing off the proposed boundary changes, which would have handed the Conservatives anywhere between five and seven additional seats at the next election, will result in David Cameron being a one-term Prime Minister.

One of the reasons the Tories were so keen on changing the make-up of the electoral map was to counter the rise in the number of people living in urban areas across the country. In order for the Conservatives to stand any chance of winning a majority at the next election they have to target approximately 32 marginal seats (defined as requiring a 5 per cent or under swing from red or yellow to blue). If you look at the location of those seats you’ll find that a large proportion of these areas are densely populated and located in the North and the Midlands. Places such as Wakefield, Middlesbrough South and Bradford East are not places you’d necessarily expect to find true blue voters.

Research by Policy Exchange earlier this year highlights the urban challenge facing the Conservative Party. After the last election the Conservatives held the majority of rural seats, but only a third of ‘major urban’ seats. Of these, most were in London, even though nearly half of such seats are in the North and Midlands. In fact Conservatives have no councillors at all in Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester or Sheffield, having been replaced by the Lib Dems as Labour’s opponents during the 1990s.

Now that the boundary changes are dead in the water, the Conservatives need a Plan B focused on broadening their appeal to people living in cities outside the South East.

Some people would argue this is pointless. Why waste money and resources trying to broaden your appeal to urbanites who are traditionally younger, more ethnically diverse and less likely to vote Conservative?

Well, let’s take a look at how people have voted over time. Traditionally, voting behaviour in Britain since 1945 has been explained with reference to demographic factors, particularly voters’ social class. Since the 1970s, this has become steadily less accurate. Though people still identify themselves as being in a particular social class, the link between their class and how they vote has weakened. Perhaps coincidentally, over the same period people’s identification with a particular party has weakened too. In recent elections there has been a growing ‘class gap’ in turnout. Middle class voters have become more likely to vote than working class voters.

Looking at this evidence, you could make an argument that the young, urban dwelling, middle class vote is up for grabs. These men and women – like the majority of the country – are disillusioned with the state of politics and not aligned to any particular party. Issues such as the availability of jobs, good quality housing and affordable childcare are key to winning over these voters.

I’m not saying that winning over younger, urban voters will be a doddle. But instead of worrying about five or so seats that the boundary review would have brought them, perhaps the Conservatives should start to think about a longer term objective of making the Party appeal to people who could make a difference at the next election.

This article originally appeared on The Spectator’s website

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