In 2019, we saw how Northern ‘Red Wall’ seats took to voting Tory, enabling a Conservative majority. But is there an emerging flipside to this, which could cancel out these new supporters? A solidifying ‘Blue Wall’, with some East Anglian outposts?
Blue Wall constituencies are generally defined as South of England Brexit-opposing seats with higher-than-average numbers of graduates. Historically they returned Conservative MPs, but this can no longer be assumed. Some voters are fishing around for alternatives, as seen in the Chesham & Amersham and North Shropshire by-elections. They are mainly ripe for harvesting by the Liberal Democrats, with a few Labour targets.
In the East of England the Blue Wall includes areas of Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire near London or Cambridge, and indeed recent local elections demonstrated a crumbling Tory vote here. These seats would mainly be LibDem targets.
What would it take for the Blue Wall to desert the Tories? What issues are important here?
Research organisation unchecked.uk recently carried out a survey on Blue Wall attitudes to environmental protections and whether it would influence their votes. It revealed some interesting results, not least in Eastern England. Let’s look at some specific examples.
When asked how likely they were to vote Conservative in future, Blue Wall voters in selected Eastern England constituencies (Hitchin & Harpenden, Southend West) gave the second lowest average positive response. They were also fairly unlikely to vote Labour or Liberal Democrat, but surprisingly, were the most likely to say they would vote Green than any other region, with 18 percent saying it was extremely probable.
How important is the environment to the Blue Wall?
In the East, over half the respondents felt more likely to vote for the party with the most ambitious environmental plans, the second highest of the regions. Many Eastern voters believe it’s important to hand on a healthy environment to future generations: at 70 percent the highest in the country.
Deregulation or protection?
When asked if, having left the EU, we should strengthen regulations to protect the environment and animals from harm, over 70 percent in the East said yes, regardless of its impact on trade with other countries. More than three quarters said it was the government’s job to put in place protective rules for people and the environment, even at a cost to businesses. For example, a high proportion of people – 76 percent – believed the government should set tougher rules for water companies, even if it costs them money. The majority, 70 percent, reported being less likely to vote for an MP who was in favour of getting rid of protections against pollution in rivers. Nearly two thirds said they would be less keen on an MP who voted to weaken food safety standards to reduce the price of chicken.
So people in the Eastern Blue Wall constituencies generally have strong views about environmental protections and say they would vote accordingly. The majority support policies to ban inhumane treatment of farm animals, tighten rules on fertilisers and pesticides, compel developers to counteract loss of green space and reverse funding cuts to regulatory bodies.
A message to the parties
According to this survey, political parties offering the strongest environmental plans are likely to attract undecided voters: they placed it over Immigration, Covid, Brexit and Crime as a deciding issue. Deregulation is not favoured; respondents do not see it as a Brexit opportunity. They feel that rules are important in the ‘pursuit of a cleaner environment where food… is produced safely and humanely, and nature and wildlife can thrive.’ Many will look for an MP who believes in protecting the environment, not removing all standards. If people continue to feel this strongly in East Anglia, some Tory Blue Wall seats could change hands on this issue alone.