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Furious talk of the “north/south divide” surfaced again and again when I interviewed voters for my new book, Beyond the Red Wall.
Resentment is long-standing and reflected in recent polling by BritainThinks: 64% of people in the north-east, 68% in Yorkshire and 70% in the north-west believe that “other areas get more resource than mine” while only 32% of people in London and the south-east do. One “red waller” told me: “The north-west generates money and it all goes down to London. We create it, we need it, but they get it.” Another explained: “You could draw a line right across the middle of Britain – the bottom half is the haves and the top half is the have-nots.”
BritainThinks’ Mood of the Nation study, published last week, confirms that northerners are even less optimistic than southerners – the average optimism score, when rating your own local area is 50% (in itself an all-time low) but this falls further to 43% in the north-west and is just 34% in the north-east. The list of grievances is long. Specifically, people in the north of England are more pessimistic about their own job security, their children’s job prospects, local transport, crime, the cost of living, decline of entertainment and leisure facilities, and the run-down state of their neighbourhoods. Expectations that these injustices would be addressed was a key driver of vote choice in December 2019.
But now the government’s handling of Covid-19 may offer another cause for complaint from red-wall voters. Asked directly if the north-west was being treated unfairly by the introduction of tier 3 measures to combat the coronavirus, 39% of northern voters agreed – 13 percentage points higher than the national average of 26%.
Ian, a red-wall Tory convert from Lancashire was scathing: “The whole lockdown thing isn’t working and needs a rethink. You can’t impose these ideas from the top. Andy Burnham knows the area and the likely impact on the area, but he hasn’t been listened to. I’m increasingly unconvinced by Boris Johnson, he’s not impressed me at all.” Courteney, from Middleton, Rochdale, was still more negative: “I don’t think the north will recover fully for a long time if the tier 3 lockdown is imposed.”
However, there is a watch-out here for critics of the government’s approach. While red-wall voters that I have spoken to in recent weeks are palpably disappointed with Johnson’s performance, they are still willing him to succeed in his battle against the virus. Michelle from Accrington, Lancashire, told me: “I’m just glad it’s not me having to do it – and I’m frustrated by those Labour mayors making trouble…” Opponents of the government risk appearing to put party politics first, fuelling division at a time when many voters yearn for the nation to pull together.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Handling of Covid-19 increases ‘red wall’ voters’ complaints of government | Society