Boris Johnson must target 'Workington man' to win general election, says Tory think tank

Posted On: 
30th October 2019

Boris Johnson should prioritise public spending over the Conservatives' "Thatcherite instincts" on tax cuts to convert sceptical voters and win the election, a leading Tory think tank has argued.

The Prime Minister pledged a host of tax cuts during his run for the Tory leadership.
Credit: 
PA

Onward said the 12 December poll would be decided by swing voters who fit the profile of 'Workington man' - a white man over 45 who lives in one of England's northern towns with a strong Rugby League tradition.

Such voters - who backed Leave in 2016, did not go to university, and feel the country "has drifted away" from their views on economic issues -  will be crucial to the Tories building a majority, Onward said.

Ben Bradley MP: The way to improve the nation’s health is through education not taxes

Sajid Javid hints at scrapping inheritance tax in his first Budget as Chancellor

Boris Johnson's tax cuts plan would cost ‘billions’ and benefit wealthy most, says IFS

The group urged the Conservatives to focus on winning over the so-called 'Rugby towns' - Castleford, Halifax, Oldham, St Helens, Warrington, Wigan and Workington itself - which have only returned one Conservative MP in every ten elections since 1918.

'Workington Man' - who Onward said represents the median voter in Middle England without which the Tories cannot win a majority - "favours security over freedom across both social and economic axes, but leans much more towards security on social issues".

And they say: "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 think tank has meanwhile commissioned polling which shows that 65% of voters want the Prime Minister to prioritise public spending over income tax cuts - with just seven percent of those asked picking taxes as one of the country's top three most important issues.

The warning comes after Mr Johnson pledged a raft of tax cuts during his campaign for the Conservative leadership, including a vow to reduce income tax by raising the threshold for the 40p rate to £80,000.

Onward's director Will Tanner said: "This election will be the most volatile in living memory and no party should be complacent about their chances. But it is clear that the Conservatives’ path to victory runs through working class rugby league towns like Workington, Warrington and Wigan, which usually do not give them a second thought - as well as the party’s leafy heartlands in the South of England. 

“To build such a broad coalition, Boris Johnson needs to embrace what we call conservatism for the common good, and offer voters policies that restore a sense of community and protection from the insecurities of modern life, rather than the tax cuts and economic liberalism that Conservatives tend to be known for."

The report's co-author James O'Shaugnessy, who served as David Cameron's director of policy, said a Tory majority would require a "leap of faith by people who have never voted Tory before".

And he said: "These voters typically live in the towns of the Midlands and Northern England, and while they are conservative on cultural issues like crime and immigration they are deeply sceptical of the Party's economic liberalism.

"These voters are not nostalgic; they don't believe there was a golden age we need to return to. They're looking for change, but change that delivers greater security in their lives not more exposure to the harsh winds of globalisation.

"To get these voters onside the Tories need to overcome their Thatcherite instincts and prioritise investment in public services over tax cuts. They must focus on delivering a higher minimum wage, a national commitment to high quality technical education, and promoting those institutions in society - the family, neighbourhood and community - that give people a sense of belonging."