Lancashire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
12:15 AM 8th July 2024

Tees Valley’s Red Wall Rebuilt?

Daniel Cobby PhD Student in Politics - School of Social Sciences, Humanities & Law Teesside University
Image by Brigitte Werner from Pixabay
Image by Brigitte Werner from Pixabay
After 14 years occupying the wilderness of Opposition, the Labour Party has returned to power with a thumping majority after four consecutive election defeats, making Sir Keir Starmer only the seventh Labour Prime Minister in history.

The Conservatives on the other hand were decimated at the ballot box, as the voters inflicted electoral casualties on many Big Beasts such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, Grant Shapps, Penny Mordaunt and Liz Truss, to name a few.

But a remarkable aspect of the election was the rebuilding of Labour’s Red Wall so soon after it had been demolished by Boris Johnson in 2019. Historically solid Labour seats such as Bolsover, Bassetlaw and Bishop Auckland returned a Labour MP once again after voting Conservative for the first time in generations at the 2019 general election.

Evidence of the Red Wall rebuild can be observed in the Tees Valley. After the Conservative onslaught spurred on by Boris Johnson and Brexit in 2019, the former Labour stronghold in the North East of England returned 4 Conservative MPs, and two years later Hartlepool turned blue for the first time in the seat’s history, with the Tories representing 5 out of 7 Tees Valley seats heading into 2024. Remarkably, this progress has all but washed away in less than 5 years, as Hartlepool, Redcar, Darlington, and Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland have all returned to Labour once more, with Stockton West (formerly Stockton South) the only Conservative seat left standing.

The question here is why these seats have switched back to Labour after such a short time away, when in 2019 it felt like many Red Wall seats could be gone for good. Much more academic analysis is necessary and will certainly be conducted over the coming weeks and months by various political analysts, but one obvious reason is the sheer calamity of the Conservative Party over the last two years. While Rishi Sunak leaving D-Day commemorations early and the betting scandal certainly damaged the Conservative election campaign, these events did not cost the party the election; they simply reinforced what the public already thought about them. Indeed, the Tories had been political unstable ever since the resignation of Boris Johnson under a cloud of controversy in 2022, owing his departure to his actions during the infamous ‘Partygate’ scandal.

Partygate shredded the trust that Johnson and the Conservatives had gained from many Red Wall voters he had won over in 2019 and showed the British people a complete disregard for the Covid-19 rules and regulations that he himself had put in place. The precarious Conservative position was further damaged by Liz Truss' ‘mini-budget’ in October 2022 that resulted in a near economic meltdown, with higher mortgage costs for millions and the sterling valuation against the dollar the lowest on record. It was these two events that cut through to voters the most, as trust and economic competence evaporated into thin air. With the absence of these two very important pillars of political governance, the Conservative Party had very little to offer the British electorate this time around.

Moreover, another reason for the Red Wall rebuild may be down to the absence of major factors that had caused the collapse in the first place: Jeremy Corbyn and Brexit. Like many other Red Wall areas, the Tees Valley voted heavily to leave the EU in 2016 and rejected Corbyn in 2019. But with Corbyn no longer Labour leader and Brexit “delivered”, the Tees Valley voters in theory had no reason to vote Conservative again. In other words, these voters lent their support to Boris Johnson and the Tories in 2019 to ‘get Brexit done’ and once this mission was complete, they simply reverted back to Labour. While this is certainly a simplified view of current events, only time will tell whether Labour’s Tees Valley Red Wall has been rebuilt using bricks or paper.

Although this election didn’t have the euphoria of a Labour win like in 1945 or 1997, Sir Keir Starmer deserves a lot of credit. Taking over the Labour Party at its lowest ebb in modern history, Starmer had an immense challenge of winning back those traditional Red Wall voters who felt they no longer recognised their own party under Corbynism. He eliminated antisemitism that had tormented the party throughout Corbyn years and pulled Labour back to the centre ground, away from socialist fantasies that had disillusioned so many traditional voters in 2019.

The suggestions that Labour’s victory was a ‘loveless landslide’ might carry some truth because of the party’s final vote tally being lower than both elections under Corbyn, but right now that doesn’t matter. And I suspect the Labour Party doesn’t really care. What matters is that the party is finally back in power and to the voters with any reservations about Starmer in Tees Valley and across the Red Wall, he now has 5 years to win them over.