FUTURE POLITICS

The Politics of Belonging

This report examines the sea change in British politics away from freedom and towards security – and identifies Workington Man as the archetypal swing voter in the 2019 election. It sets out a new agenda we call the “politics of belonging” to respond.
Will Tanner, Lord James O’Shaughnessy
October 3, 2019
The Politics of Belonging
Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email

"This research reveals a sea change in British politics, with voters overwhelmingly looking for a society that gives them more security not more freedom. This marks a break with 60 years of liberal consensus."

Lord O’Shaughnessy

 

A sea change is taking place in British politics, away from freedom and towards belonging.

In this report, which successfully identified the importance of an archetypal voter called Workington Man and Rugby League seats to the last election, we seek to understand the changing nature of British politics. We explore what is driving the headline shift away from freedom and choice and towards greater security. Using polling conducted by Hanbury Strategy, we reveal that voters are now looking for a government that will protect them and their families, and provide a greater focus on place, community and security –  what we call the “politics of belonging”.

In headline terms, two-thirds of voters want a society that focuses more on giving people security, compared to one third which wants one that prioritises freedom. This is true of all age groups, ethnicities, and regions, as well as both Leave and Remain voters.

On a socio-cultural dimension, two thirds (68%) of people believe communities have become more divided and segregated in recent years, versus 32% who believe that they have become more integrated and diverse. 63% of people say they believe that fewer people are getting married because of a decline in family commitment and values, compared to 37% who say it is because people have more freedom and choice in a partner.

On the economic axis, we find strong hostility to the key drivers of prosperity in the modern liberal market economy: global trade, innovation and urban agglomeration. Two thirds of respondents believe that “globalisation has not benefited most people” (66%), versus 34% who think it has. Three-fifths of people (61%) say that “on the whole, jobs and wages have been made worse by technological change”, compared to 39% who think they have been improved.

 

In partnership with Hanbury Strategy
Nov 16
9:00-
10:00

Towards a new political agenda

What a politics of belonging means in practice

Why this is the right approach

  1. Put investment in core public services ahead of personal income tax cuts.
  2. Focus on delivering higher paid and more secure work, through higher minimum wages, long-term investment in retraining, and technical education.
  3. Empower Britain’s regions and towns, by boosting capital investment allowances for businesses, actively building competitive industrial clusters away from London, and devolving rail, infrastructure and housing powers to cities and regional bodies.
  4. Restore a stronger sense of belonging in communities.
  5. Prioritise national security, by rebuilding neighbourhood policing, introducing honest sentencing and a 40 hour training week for prisoners, and protecting strategic industries from collapse or hostile takeover.

1. Put investment in core public services ahead of personal income tax cuts. 

65% of people would prefer government to prioritise spending for schools, hospitals and social care”, versus 35% who want government to “prioritise cutting income tax to let people keep more of their own money”. This view is held of all voters of all ages, ethnic groups, and all regions of the country apart from London. Only 7% of voters – and only 3% of current Conservative voters – pick taxation as one of the top three issues facing the country. 

2. Focus on delivering higher paid and more secure work, through higher minimum wages, long-term investment in retraining, and technical education

71% of people believe that we “should focus on reducing the gap between rich and poor, even if the economy grows more slowly” rather than “focus on growing the economy as fast as possible, even if it leads to more inequality.” 78% of people say the Government should invest in apprenticeships and technical courses for young people compared to just 22% who say they should cut the cost of student loans.

3. Empower Britain’s regions and towns, by boosting capital investment allowances for businesses, actively building competitive industrial clusters away from London, and devolving rail, infrastructure and housing powers to cities and regional bodies. 

Every region except for London believes the country has moved away from them on both economic and cultural issues. Just 6% of people in the North East say the country has moved towards their views economically and 4% closer to them on cultural issues. 

4. Restore a stronger sense of belonging in communities.

 By boosting homeownership and taxing anti-local housing such as empty, second, and enveloped homes, introducing a form of civic national service, and letting communities take over shops, assets, football clubs and public sector land through trusts. Three in five (58%) people think we have a special duty to protect local institutions such as pubs and post offices from closure. 84% of people think that the transport network would be better run if we gave cities and regions more control. 

5. Prioritise national security, by rebuilding neighbourhood policing, introducing honest sentencing and a 40 hour training week for prisoners, and protecting strategic industries from collapse or hostile takeover. 

Crime (48%) is the third highest priority of Conservative to Brexit Party switchers, behind only Brexit and Immigration. However voters marginally want a justice system that is more about rehabilitation (52%) than punishment (48%). 58% of voters say the Government should protect national industries from international competition, even if it leads to higher prices.

Towards a new political agenda

What a politics of belonging means in practice

  1. Put investment in core public services ahead of personal income tax cuts.
  2. Focus on delivering higher paid and more secure work, through higher minimum wages, long-term investment in retraining, and technical education.
  3. Empower Britain’s regions and towns, by boosting capital investment allowances for businesses, actively building competitive industrial clusters away from London, and devolving rail, infrastructure and housing powers to cities and regional bodies.
  4. Restore a stronger sense of belonging in communities.
  5. Prioritise national security, by rebuilding neighbourhood policing, introducing honest sentencing and a 40 hour training week for prisoners, and protecting strategic industries from collapse or hostile takeover.

Why this is the right approach

1. Put investment in core public services ahead of personal income tax cuts. 

65% of people would prefer government to prioritise spending for schools, hospitals and social care”, versus 35% who want government to “prioritise cutting income tax to let people keep more of their own money”. This view is held of all voters of all ages, ethnic groups, and all regions of the country apart from London. Only 7% of voters – and only 3% of current Conservative voters – pick taxation as one of the top three issues facing the country. 

2. Focus on delivering higher paid and more secure work, through higher minimum wages, long-term investment in retraining, and technical education

71% of people believe that we “should focus on reducing the gap between rich and poor, even if the economy grows more slowly” rather than “focus on growing the economy as fast as possible, even if it leads to more inequality.” 78% of people say the Government should invest in apprenticeships and technical courses for young people compared to just 22% who say they should cut the cost of student loans.

3. Empower Britain’s regions and towns, by boosting capital investment allowances for businesses, actively building competitive industrial clusters away from London, and devolving rail, infrastructure and housing powers to cities and regional bodies. 

Every region except for London believes the country has moved away from them on both economic and cultural issues. Just 6% of people in the North East say the country has moved towards their views economically and 4% closer to them on cultural issues. 

4. Restore a stronger sense of belonging in communities.

 By boosting homeownership and taxing anti-local housing such as empty, second, and enveloped homes, introducing a form of civic national service, and letting communities take over shops, assets, football clubs and public sector land through trusts. Three in five (58%) people think we have a special duty to protect local institutions such as pubs and post offices from closure. 84% of people think that the transport network would be better run if we gave cities and regions more control. 

5. Prioritise national security, by rebuilding neighbourhood policing, introducing honest sentencing and a 40 hour training week for prisoners, and protecting strategic industries from collapse or hostile takeover. 

Crime (48%) is the third highest priority of Conservative to Brexit Party switchers, behind only Brexit and Immigration. However voters marginally want a justice system that is more about rehabilitation (52%) than punishment (48%). 58% of voters say the Government should protect national industries from international competition, even if it leads to higher prices.

In this report, we identified Workington Man as the archetypal voter necessary for the Conservatives to win in the 2019 General Election.

The next election will be fought around a new voter archetype, representing the median voter of the group essential for either party to win a majority. We call this voter “Workington Man”.

Workington Man is the new voter archetype and the key swing voter in Britain today. This voter is likely to be over 45 years old, white, does not have a degree, has has lived in his home for over 10 years and resides in the North or Midlands of England. He voted to Leave the EU in 2016 and thinks the country is moving further away from his views both economically and culturally.

He wants government to prioritise apprenticeships rather than cut the cost of student loans and thinks government should promote a shared sense of national identity over a diversity of identities. Workington Man is more likely to think that crime is a major issue facing the country and twice as likely as the rest of the population to think that immigration is a major issue. He is particularly sceptical about the benefits of globalisation and thinks that we have a special responsibility to protect local institutions such as pubs and post offices from closure.

The constituency of Workington in Cumbria exhibits many of these demographic characteristics and is one of the places where the eponymous archetype is most common among the local electorate. Although the people of Workington only once elected a Conservative MP (the 1976 by-election), Labour currently has a majority of just 4,000. This makes it the ultimate bellwether seat, despite being a long standing Labour stronghold.

 

The political geography of Rugby League

In political terms, this shift to belonging changes the electoral arithmetic. The key battlegrounds are no longer midlands marginals like Nuneaton but Northern and Midlands towns with strong working class roots and Labour traditions, which voted Leave and identify with economic and social security. 

When we consider the seats which demonstrate strong preference for security, voted Leave in 2016 and have older populations, we find many are already held by the Conservatives. 

The seats to watch, therefore, are Rugby League towns like Workington, Wigan, Wakefield, Castleford, Dewsbury. They are where Boris needs to win if he is to win back a majority.

 

Towards a new politics of belonging

To respond, we need a new political agenda, one that prioritises security, community and togetherness – if the price of greater freedom is rootlessness and disconnection, voters no longer seem to think it is worth the cost.

We argue the Prime Minister should embrace what we call “Conservatism for the common good”. Its concerns are the quotidian ones of lived experience in Britain’s towns – the fraying social fabric, poor local transport, underfunded further education colleges and the dying high street – rather than national grands projet that only seem to benefit Londoners and the most well off. It is involved in building up the institutions that give meaning and strength to people in their lives – families, communities and small businesses – rather than the endless expansion of universities or cutting taxes for big business.

It would invest in police forces and prisons, and make sure sentences match the crime. It would give cities and regions control over infrastructure like the railways, and rebalance public investment away from London to the rest. This agenda would care less whether government is big or small, and more about whether it is good or bad. It would foster a shared sense of belonging rather than pursuing ever-greater individualism and diversity. Most challenging for Conservatives, it involves rejecting tax cuts and using any fiscal surpluses to invest in the public services that people value and rely on.

In short, the route to a majority today is not rugged individualism but resilient communities. And for as long as established parties offer more of the same, the political volatility will continue, hastening our slide towards authoritarianism. The post-war liberalising consensus has given way to a post-Brexit consensus based on security and belonging. The first party to offer a coherent policy platform that responds to these concerns will succeed in wrestling not just fragile power but a genuine mandate from a divided country.

Read more detail in our follow up report, The Policies of Belonging

Workington man

Will Tanner wrote an op-ed in The Sun on the day the election was called identifying Workington Man as they key voter archetype the Conservatives needed to win over.

The report generated substantial media attention, including double-page spreads in most national newspapers including The Sun and Daily Mail, as well as prominent coverage on the BBC and other broadcasters.

Workington Man - Politics of BelongingWorkington Man Daily Mail Politics of Belonging

 

Our Work

If you value the work we do support us through a donation.

Your contribution will help fund cutting edge research to make the country a better place.

Donate

Support Onward with a donation

£
Social Fabric
The case for empowering neighbourhoods as well as regions
Getting to Zero
Understanding public support for tackling climate change and attitudes towards new net zero policies
Getting to Zero
How to drive innovation to meet net zero
Levelling Up
New Onward dataset reveals for the first time how many jobs are reachable by car and public transport in every small local area in Britain – exposing a shocking transport gap between places.
Levelling Up
Analysing the current formula used to decide local authority funding and how we should fix the outdated system.
Securing the Union
Brand new polling for Onward by Stack Data Strategy suggests public support for an early Scottish independence referendum has fallen considerably since May.
Social Fabric
The case for empowering neighbourhoods as well as regions
Getting to Zero
Understanding public support for tackling climate change and attitudes towards new net zero policies
Getting to Zero
How to drive innovation to meet net zero
Levelling Up
New Onward dataset reveals for the first time how many jobs are reachable by car and public transport in every small local area in Britain – exposing a shocking transport gap between places.
Levelling Up
Analysing the current formula used to decide local authority funding and how we should fix the outdated system.
Securing the Union
Brand new polling for Onward by Stack Data Strategy suggests public support for an early Scottish independence referendum has fallen considerably since May.