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7 June 2024

How Mondeo Man lost faith in politics

Abandoned by Tony Blair, he has turned to media influencers and shallow shock jocks.

By Clive Martin

The local hero of the 2024 general election has been crowned: according to the Guardian it’s “Whitby woman”. And every general election campaign these days generates its own fictitious kingmaker, a geographically tethered but politically floating voter who will prove decisive come polling day. These voters are semi-mythical prizes. But they do capture some notion of sociocultural demographics in this country, one that doesn’t completely vanish after the exit poll chimes in. 

The first such apparition to call the shots in this way were the “Mondeo men”, whom Tony Blair sent out his pack of political scientists and spin doctors to woo. The term, an update on the less-PC “Essex man”, gained prominence after the 1996 Labour Party conference, when Blair identified this self-employed, white suburban bloke as a target demographic (the omission of any significant other had the disturbing implication that Mondeo Woman would simply vote for whoever Mondeo Man said). But he was nonetheless a clear type: an Independent article from 1997 describes him as “house-owning car-owning former Thatcherite voter disillusioned under John Major”. For a time, they formed Blair’s people’s army.

David Cameron did his best to take up the slack post-Iraq. But in time, the Mondeo Man was sidelined by the pollsters. Assuming the Top Gear box set-owners’ blind allegiance, in the late-2010s the Tory party turned its attention towards “Workington man”, an angry, rural cousin of his. Brexit certainly captured their imagination, but all major parties backing lockdown measures pushed the naturally libertarian Mondeo Man even further into the margins, leaving him, by the early 2020s, just as disenfranchised as in 1996.

With Rishi Sunak, Keir Starmer and even Ed Davey trying to occupy a tricky middle ground, the Mondeo motor is revving once more. Their vote might not be as vital as it was in 1997. But winning them over doesn’t just give you a nice chunk of green leather, but some footing in the English psyche, the national soul. The question remains as to whether Mondeo Man can be so easily found, let alone seduced. Because his post-Blair trajectory is a lesson in how electoral demographics have mutated in unexpected directions, into new guises that combine an angry, erratic politics with deep-set electoral apathy.

So where is the Mondeo Man now? First of all, he’s not the same as the new-build-owning “Deano”. Mondeo Man paid off his mortgage a long time ago, and now spends a lot of time on his iPad. He loathes the left above all else (with Owen Jones a particular annoyance) but he also has no truck with rotary club Tories or anything so institutional. The only club he wants to join is David Lloyd Leisure. The Mondeo Men are without a country, begrudgingly voting for whichever local candidate has the best opinions about parking.

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The deeper cause behind their abandonment is the fact that their heroes simply aren’t politicians any more. To find a new species of champion, I set out to London’s Troxy theatre on a balmy Saturday evening for the second round of a light heavyweight boxing clash. The previously undefeated 44-year-old contender was put on his arse by a 27-year-old YouTuber. The older man valiantly tries to carry on, but the rafters politely clap him off, soundly humiliated.

I had just witnessed the bathetic zenith of one of Britain’s most unlikely media figures, the career crescendo of a pub landlord from Loughton, Essex. He became a voice of dissent during the pandemic, before being thrust into TV punditry and, eventually, “influencer boxing”. He is Adam “EssexPR” Brooks, and while the youngsters in the crowd may not have a scooby who he is, he’s slowly winning fans, just like he’s slowly winning over the centre-right media.

It is to figures like Brooks that the Mondeo Men have congregated online. He’s not a fan of Sunak, Starmer, Davey, Sadiq Khan, Gary Lineker, Gareth Southgate or anyone especially. His battles are mostly cultural. He is the concerned parent, the aggravated motorist, the public-toilet defender, castigator of smelly students, woke councillors, teenage gangsters and blue-haired weirdos alike. He is a firm advocate of every pub argument you’ve ever heard: stop the boats, dismantle VAR, make teachers wear suits. Like a lot of today’s Mondeo Men, his brain has been fully subsumed by social media. Looking through his X timeline, in the last few days he has been raging about everything from British Overseas Territories, to trans-sympathetic books in schools, to Iran’s place on the UN Security Council, to Ofcom being a “rogue organisation”.

Yet, I can’t help but hold a candle for him, and GB News picks up on this same innate relatability, throwing him on screen several times a week to debate the non-issues of the day. Much of Brooks’s appeal lies in his background and life experiences. While the likes of Mike Graham and Nick Ferrari have been pushing the Mondeo Man persona for years, they’re really media elites, with long apprentices in Fleet Street and stiff opinions on new-world wines. Brooks is a very different prospect. His dad, an actual boxer turned pub landlord, was stabbed to death when he was a child. After working on a City trading floor for a few years, Brooks now runs an over-30s club night in the area he grew up, trains in the gym with youngsters from all backgrounds, and appears to be loved in his neighbourhood. He is, for better or for worse, a genuine everyman.

Why have the Mondeo Men turned to him? Part of it is they’ve run out of better heroes. Jeremy Clarkson, perhaps the Mondeo Man, is still a major figure in this movement, but has softened in recent years. Once the ultimate suburbanite, he is now a man of the land, trading in his purely metaphorical hatchback for a combine harvester. One-time Clarkson foe Piers Morgan is a major figure in Mondeo history, swinging the Daily Mirror to the centre, but he’s far too scattergun and irritating to hold much sway in this world. Beyond that, you’re left with ex-Apprentice candidate Thomas Skinner, now an anti-Ultra Low Emission Zone champion, or more experimentally, the defeated Tory mayoral candidate, Susan Hall, a rare Mondeo Woman. Although he’s more likely to be seen in an Audi TT with personalised plates, the ex-Crystal Palace chairman Simon Jordan also has strong Mondeo energy, constantly taking on the layabouts, the PC Brigade and England selection-dodgers on his TalkSport show.

It’s a lonely life for today’s Mondeo Men, cycling through transient political influencers in place of political parties. Blairite centrism can’t win these fellas over any more, and not because they are extremists. They’re more nihilistic than that. They don’t care for the climate, or the future, or even the economy, particularly. As fans of small government, low taxes and motorists’ rights, their spiritual home ought to be the Conservative Party. Sunak has already lost them though – too slick, too Silicon Valley. Starmer has been copying Blair’s homework on this matter – and will probably achieve an electoral pass – but he too has failed to convince this prickly demographic. Reform UK is doing its best to court the “ordinary decent bloke” crowd, pushing against immigration and green incentives, yet it will always be more Workington than Mondeo.

Perhaps the women of Whitby can remain tighter, more organised, more cohesive. But more likely their cause will be dropped once the election is won and lost. And then their fate will be that of the Mondeos, and so many other voters across Britain: shouting at the telly, moaning about the traffic, another interest group superficially conceived and expediently forgotten.

[See also: There is no cultural armada behind today’s left]

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