Little less than a year ago, the Brexit-backing, former Labour voters in the post-industrial heartlands put aside their traditional political loyalties and voted Conservative.
But with just weeks until the UK’s eleven-month transition period comes to an end, the people of the Red Wall remain just as important in paving the way for Boris Johnson to return to Downing Street in 2024.
Recent polling as reported in the Sun and the Telegraph has indicated that over half of swing voters in 34 key constituencies that Boris Johnson gained from Labour last December will be less likely to vote Conservative again if the Prime Minister appears to buckle to Brussels in the coming days.
The 2,000 respondents in the Savanta ComRes poll expressed an unrepentant desire for Britain to take back control of its fishing waters, for the UK to be free of EU judges in Strasbourg, and for Westminster to have the ability to sign its own free trade deals.
The Prime Minister, therefore, is under increasing pressure as the likelihood of a deal being agreed between Brussels’ chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and the lead negotiator in the UK’s entourage, David Frost, having reportedly “rescinded”.
In October, the Prime Minister’s 2016 colleague and the former chief executive of Vote Leave, Matthew Elliott, told UCL’s student paper, Pi Media, that he remains “optimistic” of a trade deal and added that the current blockages were the “final theatrics”.
However, in two statements on December 4, both Barnier and Frost indicated that the UK and EU continued to disagree on issues such as the level playing field, governance and fisheries.
The pair also agreed to put talks on hold and let the Prime Minister and his EU counterpart, Ursula von der Leyen, discuss the state of play and assess how both sides can move forward.
Johnson and von der Leyen went on to talk by telephone later that day.
But other polling companies have also taken an interest in the views of the Red Wall in recent days.
In an exclusive poll for Channel 4 News, J.L. Partners found that Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party had re-taken the lead over the Tories.
Last December, the Tories won around 48% of the vote in these Red Wall seats, and Mr Johnson’s party was nine-points clear of their Labour opponents, then led by Jeremy Corbyn.
But this November poll shows that the Tories are down seven-points and Labour, led by the People’s Vote-backing former Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, have reached 47 per cent of the vote.
The co-founder of J.L. Partners, James Johnson, Tweeted that poor messaging on Covid and the Cummings Durham trip has “fuelled” the change in Tory fortunes.
The poll added that just 70 percent of those who switched to the Conservatives stated they would vote for Boris Johnson again.
Seven percent of respondents suggested that they intended to switch back to the Labour Party.
J.L. Partners’ poll estimated that the Tories could lose 36 of the 45 “Red Wall” seats that voted to “Get Brexit Done” last December.
Nonetheless, Number 10 may take some relief in the fact that 16 percent of respondents stated they did not know how they would vote in 2024.
Downing Street will hope to win over many undecided voters in a bid to retain an additional set of seats in the northern heartlands.
The result of this 500-strong poll also showed that the Tories are considered as more competent, but also better on defence, Brexit, the economy and rebuilding from the Covid-19 crisis.
However, almost two-thirds of the respondents polled in these northern and Midland marginals remain sceptical about the Prime Minister’s central policy objective, levelling up.
Labour, by comparison, are seen as more in touch with northern and Midland voters, and are regarded as the party best-suited to deal with the environment, education, NHS and housing.
The Prime Minister has a net approval rating of -2 percent amongst these voters.
Whereas the Leader of the Opposition fares slightly better with a positive rating of 7 percent.
Nonetheless, the poll suggests that Number 11 has sidestepped the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has registered an enormous lead as the Red Wall’s most popular politician.
Sunak, who has been a long-standing proponent of post-Brexit freeports, has a positive net approval rating of an almost unassailable 33 percentage points.