Boris Johnson’s challenge to win over ‘Waitrose woman’

Downing Street faces test to prevent Liberal Democrat surge across ‘Blue Wall’

Boris Johnson
(Image credit: James Glossop/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

As pressure mounts on Boris Johnson in the wake of the Partygate scandal, No. 10 is reportedly targeting a specific demographic to keep the PM in office: “Waitrose woman”.

According to Politico’s London Playbook, Downing Street thinks “winning over” this type of voter “is fundamental to its strategy to keep Johnson afloat”.

It describes her as “the mythical middle-class female voter who may not have been a fan of Brexit or gone in for Johnson’s populist red wall appeal, definitely doesn’t look kindly upon Partygate, and might usually vote Tory but is now considering the Lib Dems”.

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Following the likes of “Essex Man”, who personified the type of median voter used to help explain the electoral successes of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, or “Mondeo Man”, who was identified as the sort of voter Labour needed to win back power in the 1990s, “Waitrose woman” could similarly come to define Johnson’s tenure and whether he can win the next general election.

Risk to the ‘Blue Wall’

Amid a “lurch to the right” that has added to the anger of rebel Conservative MPs, The Guardian has reported “the dismay over Johnson’s premiership is worsening among Tories in so-called ‘Blue Wall’ seats at risk of losing them to the Lib Dems”, as well as “Red Wall” marginals where they have narrow majorities over Labour.

“Traditionally Conservative, prosperous, well-educated, generally Remain voting,” wrote former Tory MP David Gauke in The New Statesman, these are the areas in which the Tory majorities were often smaller in 2019 than they were in 2015.

Writing in the wake of May’s local election results which saw swathes of Tory councillors lose their seats to the Lib Dems, Gauke said: “If one accepts the view that our politics is realigning (and I do), Conservative losses here might signify not just evidence of mid-term blues but something more fundamental: the Tory retreat from its customary stronghold in south-east England.”

The re-emergence of the Lib Dems

Reaping the benefits of disillusionment with the Conservatives in their traditional heartland are the Liberal Democrats, who finally appear to be emerging from the electoral wilderness they have inhabited since their near wipeout in 2015 following their coalition years in government.

There is also a sense that traditional Tory areas and values have been abandoned by the current leadership. “Many voters who have always lent the Tories their trust feel that southern rural areas have suffered at the expense of ‘levelling up’,” reported The Telegraph, referring to Johnson’s much-touted plan to improve high streets and fortunes in neglected northern areas traditionally represented by Labour.

By-election High Noon

A key test of the threat posed to the “Blue Wall” comes next month, when voters head to the polls in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election.

“A sprawling, largely rural constituency in Devon may feel a million miles from the machinations of Westminster but next month this agricultural heartland will find itself at the centre of the UK’s political universe,” said The Independent.

Vacated by Neil Parish, who resigned as MP after admitting watching pornography in the House of Commons, the Devon constituency was won in 2019 with a Conservative majority of 24,000 votes.

The Parish scandal and a recent shift of Conservative voters towards the Liberal Democrats mean the seat is now considered marginal, reported The Telegraph. The Lib Dem campaign in the constituency is expected to focus on policy areas in which the Conservatives are weak in southern seats, including tax increases and protections for “the rural way of life”, added the paper.

Were the Tories to lose in Tiverton and Honiton as well as seeing the Wakefield by-election go to Labour on the same day, then it may well mark a tipping point for many Conservative MPs, and signal the beginning of the end for the prime minister.

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