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How the red wall started crumbling

Tom Stoddart/Getty Images The site of an old Consett steelworks in the north of England, 8th May 1990.

Convinced something deeper than Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn was responsible for Labour’s worst defeat since 1935 in the so-called “red wall”, I spent a year visiting the constituencies there for my new book, says Sebastian Payne in the Financial Times. And what’s striking is the economic transformation of County Durham’s mining towns – something people rarely talk about. Where there used to be Consett Iron Company, for example, there are now “spacious” new homes, a college, a McDonald’s and lots of small businesses. Upmarket brands of cars “speak of a wealth the miners and steelworkers never had”. Many residents commute to the nearby cities of Newcastle and Durham.

When the steelworks dominated Consett, life revolved around it and mining. The workplace was heavily unionised, which in turn tied employees to the Labour Party. Socialising happened at the working men’s clubs and pubs. Voting Conservative “was as alien to many of its residents as putting on a suit and tie and going to an office”. Even in the 1980s, people here used to vote Labour without a second thought, saying things like, “my dad would just kill me if I didn’t”. But when the pits closed, life “became more individualistic”.

Society’s fabric has utterly changed. The red wall is more prosperous, thanks to Margaret Thatcher’s economic revolution, but memories of job losses and the upheaval caused by the collapse of the steelworks are still strong. That’s why Boris Johnson’s “cocktail of conservatism and Blairism” works. Labour has found itself out of step in the “culture wars”, while Johnson’s gut instincts have found the new centre ground, says political philosopher John Gray. It’s big-state paternalism, a dash of patriotism and a shot of Thatcher’s individualism – leftwards on economics, right on culture. Johnson’s conservatism speaks to the present, not the past. That’s why it won.

Read the full article here (paywall).