Why Trump’s loss is a warning for the Conservatives in Wales and the north of England

Donald Trump. Picture by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Ifan Morgan Jones

The most interesting thing about Trump’s loss in last week’s Presidential election wasn’t necessarily that it happened – after a few hours of doubt when Florida went red in the early hours of Wednesday morning, the election turned out largely as expected, albeit in slow motion as mail-in ballots were counted.

The interesting thing about the election was the break down in who voted Trump and Biden, and why.

According to Charles H Stewart, founding director of MIT’s Election Data and Science Lab, one big factor that lost Trump the election was a loss of support among lower-income voters.

Low-income voters, he said, were more attracted to Biden, while the president gained among voters with family incomes over $100,000 a year.

“That right now appears to be the biggest demographic shift I’m seeing,” he told the Guardian. “And you can tie that to [Trump’s] tax cuts [for the wealthy] and lower regulations.

“For as much as we talk about the culture wars and all of those sorts of things, it looks like the big thing was good old-fashioned pocketbook economics.”

As a result, Trump lost significant ground in the ‘rust belt’ areas he had won so unexpectedly from Hillary Clinton in 2016 – Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

In Trump’s case, the repudiation wasn’t complete. There was no wholesale rejection of Trumpism, but there didn’t have to be – his win in 2016 was so narrow that any loss of support meant defeat.

But the reasons for the loss was clear. Trump achieved almost nothing that was in the interests of those who voted for him.

After promising to Make America Great Again for them in 2016, it’s clear that enough blue collar workers were disillusioned with him not to give him a second term.

 

Attack

In 2019 we saw the Conservatives flip the UK’s own ‘rust belt’ – the neglected constituencies that make up the ‘red wall’ across the north of England and into the north of Wales.

In Wales, the Welsh Conservatives took Wrexham, Vale of Clwyd, Clwyd South and Delyn across that line, and also Ynys Môn further to the west.

And it is here that they will be hoping to make big gains at next year’s Senedd elections, too.

The demographics of these areas don’t match up exactly with the US’ ‘rust belt’ of course, but what they have in common is a sense that they are on the neglected political periphery.

The north-east of Wales, of course, is on two political peripheries – that of Westminster down in London and the Senedd in Cardiff.

When you feel neglected, a politician that can effectively communicate to you ‘I am like you, I have the same values as you, I hear you and will represent you, and I will kick the establishment that has neglected you and doesn’t care about you’ is likely to get your support.

This is what Trump managed to do in the rust belt in 2016 and what Boris Johnson managed across the red wall in 2019.

And in his very first speech as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson made clear his intent to reward the peripheral nations and regions of the UK by ‘levelling them up’ economically, reviving the fortunes of the ‘left-behind’ towns and cities.

Instead, what we have seen is a harsh condemnation of his reaction to Covid-19 in Wales and across the north of England.

There was no furlough extension for the local lockdowns across the north-east of England and none for Wales’ ‘firebreak’ lockdown either. But one was suddenly announced once all of England went into lockdown.

The Liverpool City Mayor said that “millions of people woke up knowing the prime minister of this country believes the North is worth less than the South.”

While Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham chimed in with: “I can assure the government that the people of the North won’t easily forget that they were judged to be worth less than their southern counterparts.”

Welsh Labour’s Twitter account tweeted out: “When Wales needed support, Rishi Sunak said no. But when the South of England needed it, he said yes.”

There is, of course, a lot of party politics involved here, with Labour trying to inflict maximum electoral damage on the Tories for their u-turn.

But the reason they are attempting to pour salt into this wound is that they have realised how effective an attack it is.

If voters who feel neglected in Wales and in the north of England believe that the Conservative party doesn’t hear them, doesn’t like them and doesn’t represent them – and worse still represents the very establishment they wanted to kick – those voters won’t vote for them either.

The furlough extension could end up being Boris Johnson’s equivalent of Trump’s tax cut – a signal to voters that despite the populist rhetoric during the campaign, in power he has ended up looking after those who are always looked after and neglecting those who are always neglected.

Just ask Donald Trump how that worked out for him.

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