Make room for ‘Workington Man’

Thomas Messenger

As somebody who spent 22 years living in the Workington constituency, I’ve unexpectedly been catapulted into the upper echelons of political fame.

This is proving to be a weird election.

Not just because Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are, yes really, the actual candidates for Prime Minister. Not even because it’s been held in the depths of Winter when we all frankly have merrier things to be doing with our time.

No, this is proving to be a weird election because I’ve found myself unexpectedly catapulted into the upper echelons of political fame. Hello ‘Mondeo Man’, nice to see you ‘Worcester Woman’, please make room for ‘Workington Man’.

In a giveaway sign that some parties remain rooted in political strategies of the ‘90s and ‘00s, ‘Workington Man’ is the latest voter archetype the Conservatives are, apparently, targeting in an effort to win a majority in Parliament.

Glossing over the fact this is grossly offensive to the many Workington Women who, would you believe, make up fifty per cent of the constituency, we are told that Workington Man is a Leave-supporting working-class white man who enjoys taking in rugby league on the weekends. He has voted Labour throughout his life but dislikes Jeremy Corbyn and feels an Old Etonian is the answer to the country’s problems.

As somebody who spent 22 years living in the Workington constituency, let me say this. What patronising cobblers. For one thing, more than one in three people in the constituency voted to Remain and the impact of that Leave vote is already being felt in key industries across Workington. To paraphrase a famous political slogan, I’m a Remainer and I vote.

I’m spending a lot of time in Workington in the run up to the election to, full disclosure, try and get our excellent Labour MP re-elected. I’m also doing it to prove the point that ‘Workington Man’ is a ludicrous concept.

What have I heard over the last few days? Firstly, for what is apparently a key Tory target, surprisingly few people are admitting to voting Conservative. I’m aware that many a-seasoned Labour campaigner will be shaking their head at this (“nobody ever admits to voting Tory”) but this feels different.

Memories are long and to many the Conservatives remain toxic. Speak to Leave voters and you hear tales of pit and steelwork closures in the 1980s. Switch to Remainers and you get a tirade about how David Cameron should be tried for treason (or something like that). Both groups are deeply sceptical of fresh pledges on public services after nine years of Conservative government.

This brings me to the most surprising thing about campaigning in this seat: hardly anybody is proactively talking about Brexit.

For all the talk of this being a Brexit Election (copyright Sky News), the issues people want to talk about are Labour bread and butter issues. The NHS (particularly regarding cuts to consultant-led services at local hospitals), the state of education, and crumbling infrastructure are the key points of discussion. And this is uniform across both Leave and Remain areas.

Granted, for some voters, Brexit is the most important issue. But while some Labour voters are switching to the Brexit Party, they are in a far smaller number than I frankly expected. And while many are equally tempted by the Liberal Democrats, it’s clear to me that Remainers are increasingly recognising this is a two-horse town and a vote for the Lib Dems, while satisfying, is ultimately working in the Conservative candidate’s favour. Replicate this across the country and the Remain Alliance may have legs yet.

So “Labour Hold” then, job done. Sadly not. Enter stage (far) left, the Rt Honourable JC. It is hard to overstate how disliked Jeremy Corbyn is in this traditional Labour seat. The Leavers call him crackers and a communist, the Remainers call him a Eurosceptic (and worse). The seat would not be in contention if it weren’t for the Labour Leader himself; if it’s lost, it won’t be due to Brexit.

Having said all of that, if I were a betting man (and you can get good odds at the moment), I would expect see Labour re-elected in Workington. But it’s going to be close and turnout will be key. People are looking for any excuse possible not to vote Labour and endorse Jeremy Corbyn. I’ll feel nervous if we get a rainy day or if there’s snowfall. But all things being equal, Workington Man and Workington Woman should prove the pundits wrong on December 13th.