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Will the Blue Wall fall?

Successive polls suggest the Conservatives could do even worse in south-east England than they think.

By David Gauke

What if the polls are true? What if the Conservatives are on course not just to lose the traditionally Labour seats in the Red Wall won in 2019, as well as the mid-sized towns that usually constitute marginal seats, but also lose large numbers of constituencies that have previously been thought of as safely Conservative? What if the Blue Wall – consisting of traditionally Conservative seats in the greater south-east of England – is about to fall?

It is a question that Conservative MPs are increasingly asking themselves as Labour’s poll lead stubbornly refuses to fall. Particular attention is always paid to multilevel regression and poststratification (MRP) polling which takes a large national sample and then applies the results to reflect the populations within each individual constituency. Within the UK, MRP polling has a good record on a constituency by constituency basis. This is why two MRP polls, one from Survation at the weekend and one from YouGov yesterday, cause such concern.

The Survation MRP poll is the bleakest for the Tories and the best for Labour. Labour wins an extraordinary 465 seats, the Conservatives are down to 98, the SNP wins 41 seats (which sounds high to me), and the Liberal Democrats, 22. Yesterday’s YouGov poll has Labour on 403, the Tories on 155, the Lib Dems on 49 and the SNP on 19.

In the Blue Wall, the two polls tell somewhat different stories. But in both Labour win seats across Hertfordshire, Hampshire, Berkshire, Sussex, Buckinghamshire, Surrey and Oxfordshire – the shires and the home counties: the redoubts of Conservative England.

For those of us hoping for a revival of sensible centre-right politics, what happens in the Blue Wall will matter. If the Blue Wall stays blue, it will be a proportionately larger part of the Conservative parliamentary party. This is a part of the country that much preferred the Conservative Party of 2015 to the populist iterations that followed, that wants a party focused on economic competence and respecting Britain’s institutions, and thinks that leaving the EU was a mistake. This is the kind of Tory party in which I was a minister. It is possible this version of conservatism might prevail after the coming fall.

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But if the Tories lose the Blue Wall, everything changes. They will have been driven out of their final footholds in Remain-voting Britain, and be reduced to the party of Leave-voting rural England. As I have argued before, the temptation to try to reunite the right and become the party of the 2016 Vote Leave coalition will be hard to resist. (By the way, the odds on Priti Patel as next Tory leader have now shortened to 16/1, down from 50/1 when I first tipped her on these pages.) This may mean a further retreat from the Blue Wall. That will depend on precisely what has happened there. The manner of the coming Tory defeat will matter as much as the fact of it.

If Labour takes the Blue Wall, it will be tempting to think that this is temporary, a consequence of freakish circumstances that will not be repeated. Recovering the Blue Wall should be within reach for a relatively sensible Conservative Party.

If the Lib Dems do well here, however (current estimates vary), the task could be harder. The Lib Dems will not have to take responsibility for being in government, their MPs often acquire a reputation for being doughty local champions, and the party might even change to reflect the different nature of its electoral base.

As matters stand, no party is a natural fit for this part of the country. The Blue Wall is too liberal for the prospective Tory offer (Brexit redux plus culture wars) but too prosperous to vote consistently for economically centre-left parties. There is a big prize for the political party that can most convincingly embody the values of this now contested territory.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; receive it every morning by subscribing on Substack here.

[See also: Among Conservatives, the mood has never been so grim]

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