Hot on the heels of Mondeo Man and Worcester Woman comes Workington Man — the swing voter who British Prime Minister Boris Johnson needs to convince to win next month’s election.
At least that’s the theory of one think-tank, which has developed the latest in a tradition of alliteratively titled stereotypes considered crucial to winning a parliamentary majority. Workington, a rural constituency on England’s most northwesterly coast, has been Labour for 100 years, with only a three-year blip in the 1970s when it went Conservative.
Workington Voting Intention:
CON: 45% (+3)
LAB: 34% (-17)
BXP: 13% (+13)
LDM: 5% (-2)
GRN: 2% (+2)
Via @Survation, 30-31 Oct.
Changes w/ GE2017.
— Election Maps UK (@ElectionMapsUK) November 1, 2019
But it voted Leave in the 2016 EU referendum, and the current Labour MP voted Remain — a discrepancy that some believe could give Johnson a chance in the December 12 polls.
The UKIP candidate from 2015, Mark Jenkinson, is now the Conservative candidate and has made delivering Brexit his main pitch.
Repairing his lobster pot in a fishing hut near the harbour, Alan Ferris admitted he fits the description of “Workington Man” set out by the Tory-leaning Onward think-tank — an older, white, northern English non-graduate who voted for Brexit.
But the 67-year-old, who has held many jobs from coal mining to construction, told AFP: “If I vote Conservative, it’ll be by mistake and I’d chop my fingers off so I won’t do it again.”
Read more: Brexit in limbo as UK PM pushes for election
Hostility to the Tories is strong in this rundown former industrial town, which after the closure of its coal and steelworks, is dependent for many jobs on the nearby Sellafield nuclear plant.
But many here also have doubts about Labour’s leftist leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has promised sweeping nationalisations and higher taxes on the wealthy. He has vowed to renegotiate Britain’s exit terms with the EU and hold a second referendum, but has yet to say how he would campaign.
Read more: UK will go into an election, but only if EU delays Brexit
Despite backing Labour his whole life, Ferris says he will not be voting next month. “I can’t vote for Jeremy Corbyn. He’s an absolute clown. And on Brexit, he’s totally neutral,” he said.
“This constituency voted Leave — why aren’t they doing it? Our votes don’t count.”
Get us out
Johnson was forced to delay Brexit for three months from October 31 after failing to get his exit terms through parliament, but is now campaigning on a promise to “Get Brexit Done”.
For some Leavers in Workington, it resonates. “The Conservatives, they’re the only ones that’s promising to get us out,” said Bron Stringer, 43, who runs a market stall.
#BackBoris to get Brexit done.
🇬🇧 Only @BorisJohnson can take our country forward and deliver on the people's priorities.#GE2019 pic.twitter.com/3pTkzI6vFy
— Conservatives (@Conservatives) October 29, 2019
She is normally a Labour voter, but condemned Corbyn as a “communist”. A poll by Survation for the Daily Mail last weekend suggested the Conservatives are on course to win in Workington, with 45 percent support, compared to 34 percent for Labour.
The closure of its coal and steelworks, is dependent for many jobs on the nearby Sellafield nuclear plant.
Labour’s Sue Hayman, a member of Corbyn’s top team, won the seat for a second time in 2017 with 51 percent of the vote, an increased majority of 4,000.
Her supporters insist she can keep the seat. “I’m not Workington Woman!” said market trader Charlotte Byers, 50.
“It’s not all about Brexit, it’s also about the National Health Service,” she said, pointing to Labour’s record of funding public services. Ann Douglas, 70, a retired secretary, added: “We lost our steelworks, we lost our ports. The Conservatives have done this area no favours.”
On this day 73 years ago, Nye Bevan’s National Health Service Bill became law.
This was our first step to setting up a truly universal healthcare system– the NHS.
The Tories voted against the NHS Bill 22 times. They can't be trusted to protect it. Labour will always care for it. pic.twitter.com/NzhZ0IRILi
— The Labour Party (@UKLabour) November 6, 2019
Workington lies between the Lake District national park and the Irish Sea, and it feels like a long way from Westminster. “We’re out here on a limb, nobody gives a stuff about us,” said Stringer.
The 2016 Brexit campaign tapped into a similar sense of disillusionment in communities across Britain — and populist eurosceptic leader Nigel Farage is hoping he can do it again. Farage made Workington one of the first campaign stops for his new Brexit Party.
Fascinating to see that @Nigel_Farage was in Workington today & greeted with a standing ovation.
Corbyn will visit Manchester this weekend where he thinks he'll be addressing the 'grass roots'.
Workington is real working class; Manchester is pseudo metropolitian elite. https://t.co/FnQYIybP3z
— Nigel Bennett (@top1percentile) November 6, 2019
His former party, UKIP, won 20 percent of the vote here in the 2015 election, only to slump to less than four percent two years later. The UKIP candidate from 2015, Mark Jenkinson, is now the Conservative candidate and has made delivering Brexit his main pitch.
Addressing a meeting at a local hotel, Farage argued that Johnson’s withdrawal deal with the EU would deliver “Brexit in name only”. He dismissed as “patronising cobblers” the idea of Workington Man, the successor to Mondeo Man, the stereotypical Ford owner targeted by former Labour leader Tony Blair.
Read more: UK PM fails to force early election after EU backs Brexit delay
And he made clear where his target was. “If you’re a Leave voter you cannot vote Labour in this election, because it’s clear they will betray your vote,” he said.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk.