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UK politics

Now the Tories need to look south

Tejas Sandhu/MI News/NurPhoto/Getty Images

On the surface “the Tories are sitting pretty”, says Sherelle Jacobs in The Daily Telegraph. As Boris Johnson leads their “remorseless advance into former socialist heartlands”, there’s talk of an early election in 2023 to press home their advantage. Some predict the PM could even beat Margaret Thatcher’s “11-year reign”. But down in the leafy south, Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens have been making gains on local councils. The flight of Labour-leaning urban voters to rural Tory seats is being accelerated by working from home and the percentage of graduates in the population is rising. Pitching themselves as the “party of non-metropolitans” looks like a “no-brainer” for the Conservatives – actually, it’s a “ticking time bomb”.

The truth is, much of the Tories’ political success over the past decade is down to rising house prices, says George Eaton in the New Statesman. It was well-off homeowners, not deprived voters, who turned the “red wall” blue. But the “property-owning democracy” Thatcher dreamt of is “wilting”. In London, where the average house price is 13 times the median salary, the Tories are increasingly “marginalised” – in the 1987 and 1992 general elections, they beat Labour in the capital. As Generation Rent grows up, the Conservatives will realise “it is hard to sell capitalism to those with no capital”.

The “Great Realignment” of politics, from economics to values, is also pointing left, says Ed West in UnHerd. Johnson is triumphant now because he’s won over the culturally conservative working class, but Labour has a coalition that’ll win “the Britain of 2040”. The young, the unmarried, renters and ethnic minorities are all “demographically ascendant” – and rock-solid Labour. Anti-Toryism is a “social norm” for the young, so they won’t be morphing into “cynical conservatives” any time soon. Just as realignment in America has handed wealthy districts to the Democrats, so the young, professional Conservative voter will soon die out and southeast England will turn red.

I’m not so sure, says Michael Deacon in The Daily Telegraph. “The Tories are the most successful party in the history of politics for a reason: they’re willing to do and say whatever it takes to win.” They banned the teaching of homosexuality in schools, then introduced gay marriage 25 years later. They took us into Europe, then took us out again after 45 years. Just as they wooed the red wall, they’ll cling on to the “woke middle class” with aplomb. “I can picture it already”: Priti Patel will pledge to defund the police, Oliver Dowden will commit to tearing down a minimum of 20,000 statues a year and Jacob Rees-Mogg will announce his preferred gender pronouns in Latin.