North West Blue Collar Conservatism
The best piece of advice I received from a party stalwart in Ribble Valley Conservative Association before I started campaigning to get elected as a Borough Councillor was, “Don’t worry about the Working Classes, there are more people living in terraced houses in the older parts of the Ward that Vote Conservative than there are that live in some of the big detached houses on the new housing estates.” At face value what he was saying sounded utterly paradoxical. Aren’t affluent individuals with high powered jobs living in expensive houses supposed to be the bedrock of Conservative support? He went on, “You see, these are people who have worked hard to get to where they are now. They really value what they have and living in the Ribble Valley means a lot to them. They just want to protect what they’ve got. All they want is to stop the Government interfering too much in their lives and to spend the money they’ve earned how they want!”
The demographic of Billington, a Village of some 750 houses: an evolving mixture of micro housing estates from different decades and ribbon terraced housing development, is characterised according to Experian’s Mosaic Demographic, Lifestyle & Behavioural Profiling System as Blue collar workers and traders, serving the needs of small market towns, what it calls “Jack of All Trades”. There are a large number of Small Business Owners and Proprietors who work for themselves as well as Self Employed Skilled Tradesmen. Typically these are former Technical, Skilled Engineering & Manufacturing Employees who worked in Industry many of whom benefitted from highly valued apprenticeship and technical training schemes. Many left school early and did vocational exams as they thought this would be a surer route to steady earnings through trade than further education would. With that comes both a pride in their work and, a strong sense of responsibility to the community where they live. Our Village has been awarded well kept village status in one guise or another on a number of occasions. There is a sense of achievement in doing a good job for local residents, with tradesmen often working long hours over several weeks to get a job done. VAT and Health & Safety are regarded as unnecessary distractions from their chief objective of actually doing a job and earning money from it. In particular they are intensely suspicious of the EU and from their perspective don’t understand why something so far away and remote has such an impact on their lives when it comes to working practices, even down to use of materials. UKIP is proving a popular recruiting sergeant for the self employed.
Business is still done on a face to face basis with recommendations coming by word of mouth. Payment by Cash is preferred and a receipt is mandatory. The accountant down the road needs that to do their books. They respect the Taxman but they resent him poking a nose into their business. Community ties are deep and abiding, even as a resident of now 14 years standing I am still regarded as a newcomer. Unsurprisingly the Unemployment rate is extremely low – one of the lowest in the country and Owner Occupancy Rates are extremely high.
Many Residents live in comfortable spacious homes that they not only own but in many cases have actually developed themselves prior to development becoming a popular media buzz phrase, some as former Council House Residents who exercised a Right to Buy. With self-reliance comes an immense pride in their own homes and a protective outlook toward the local area which they feel they have done so much to help create – a lifestyle that they feel is being threatened by the threat of unnecessary over-development, blaming an uncaring Government they thought was on their side. More than most they are incredibly sensitive to the infrastructure needs of the community that they feel they have helped establish and the strains they feel that large numbers of new houses will place on Roads, Schools, Libraries and other important Local Amenities like Village Shops and Post Offices. The big fear is being swallowed up as part of the Urban Conurbation they strove so hard to escape from in the first place.
The outlook of Blue Collar Conservatives is fairly parochial – not that they are limited in their horizons, many have travelled and holidayed widely but they do enjoy and feel comfortable with their familiar surroundings and are not very interested by happenings in the wider world. They are tidy, respectable people and tend not to be very opinionated unless they feel that they are getting a raw deal or being hit in the pocket by a Government which they feel is not trying very hard to understand their way of life. They pride themselves on a practical outlook and are keen to get on with their lives with as little effort as possible and shrinking incomes is making this harder as time goes on.
Jacks of All Trades have not put aside huge savings, and their incomes are fairly middling. While many of them would like to work more hours to earn more money, most are getting by, more or less. Indeed most privately admit that work so that they can enjoy their spare time, and the flexibility of their jobs appeals to them. They pay the bills on time, however, and manage to maintain a decent standard of living. Increasingly though they do not often have much left over for luxuries or to build up their savings. That is why they feel that it is important for the Government to give them and be seen to be giving them a fair deal. When they see how lightly Bankers appear to be getting off the lifestyle comparison is seen to be an unfair one – and it rankles! Deeply!
The value of Pensions is a really big issue. A large number are destined to retire with nothing but a small personal pension and a few savings to support them beyond the basic state pension. The good news is that their expenses are very low. It is a good job as the effect of inflation is having a damaging impact on their way of life. Their weekly shopping bill continues to rise and they would rather cut back or shop at a discounted Super Market – what they don’t understand is why the price of commodities is rising so sharply. It is fortunate that a large number have already managed to pay off their mortgages. Consequently, their lifestyles do not demand a great deal of income to sustain them but missing out on Quiz Night at the Local Pub or Working Man’s Club is having an impact on the viability of these institutions that were once at the heart of village life.
It is unsurprising therefore, that such skilled artisans, (for that is ultimately what they are) are innately Conservative and that they vote Conservative. Their education was not to a particularly high level, but they have secured a stable and comfortable lifestyle for themselves through hard work, respectable behaviour and good financial management – not something they have seen from successive Governments of varying hues over the past decades. They value those virtues in other people, and feel strongly that anyone can prosper in life by behaving as they have. This chimes well with their conservative views, both economic and social. They believe in the importance of doing one’s duty: the fact that many have enjoyed a period of time in the Armed Services is no coincidence. Above all, such innately Conservative Blue Collar Voters crave stability, security and constancy in their lives, and to a large extent they have achieved those things. The Banking Crisis and the most serious Economic Downturn in living memory is threatening that constancy and they strongly wish that the Government would acknowledge their concerns. If anything, although not demonstrative, what they want is for their lives not to be changed in any great way. That stability and constancy appears to be increasingly threatened by economic instability and change for the worst that they don’t want. It is hardly surprising that they are not so much turning away from the Conservatives but reserving judgement, wondering why it is that as a Party we can’t deliver a political agenda attuned to their concerns. There is a very real danger therefore that a Southern London biased metropolitan agenda focussed exclusively on the institutional political aspects of deficit reduction will exclude Northern Blue Collar Conservative Voters in the foreseeable future with the result that many will either turn to UKIP in protest or abstain, the result being a denial of Victory in 2015 in both instances.
Friday 11th January, 2011