The UK’s general election is the most unpredictable in a generation
Britain will vote on December 12, the first election in that month since 1923, the third in four years, and a contest that is likely to be the most unpredictable in a generation.
There are two main reasons for this: an increasingly fickle electorate, and someone election strategists are calling “Workington Man.”
The term appears in a report out today (pdf, p. 18) from Onward, the right-leaning think tank. Workington Man is white, over 45 years of age, without a college degree, and mostly to be found in northern English towns that traditionally vote Labour, according to James O’Shaughnessy and Will Tanner in “The Politics of Belonging.” Those towns include Workington, Wigan, Wakefield, Castleford, St. Helens, Halifax, and Dewsbury. These parts of England are roughly equivalent to America’s Rust Belt in terms of former industrial strength, current economic decline, and a cultural suspicion of the forces of globalization.
Workington Man replaces Worcester Woman, the British equivalent of America’s soccer mom, or the swing voter that pollsters and demographers once identified as a key target in terms of campaign and policy. Worcester Woman was in focus in Britain’s 1997 election, which ended 18 years of Conservative rule and saw Tony Blair in Downing Street with a landslide Labour win.
But now, the key member of the British political tribe is supposed to be Workington Man, at least according to the narrative being pushed by right-of-center figures. Labour would probably still count him as its own, and voting patterns until now in Workington constituency bear this out.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats, who are opposed to Brexit, are focusing on voters that might be described as “Richmond Remainers.” It is a reference to the green and pleasant London suburb of Richmond, which voted to remain in the EU. Six months after the Brexit referendum, a Liberal Democrat political novice defeated the incumbent Conservative MP in a by-election. (In 2017, the Conservatives won Richmond back.)