Did you hear anyone during the election proudly declaring that they were voting Conservative? I didn’t. The Labour voters were swinging their colours from the mast and making themselves obvious from the moment the election was announced. Here in West Wales, where the Conservatives had only had very narrow majorities in the previous election, it looked like Labour might actually do it. When the announcement came however, those narrow majorities had gone, and the Conservative win was bigger than ever.
It wasn’t just Brexit, or the Corbyn mishaps though. In West Wales, officially the poorest part of Northern Europe, there are two Tory constituencies, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, MP Simon Hart, and Preseli Pembrokshire, MP Stephen Crabb. This has been the situation for a long time now. These Tory strongholds have been in place since 2005 and 2010 respectively. How can this be?
Many people will give you the knee jerk answer that it’s the retirees coming in from away, and this is in many ways true, but a look at the figures and the majority of people over 65 voted conservative in the last election. Not all of our pensioners are imports from England.
The constituencies as they exist today were born in 1997. Prior to that, West Wales was its own constituency, encompassing the main working class towns of Pembroke, Pembroke Dock, Milford Haven and Haverfordwest. The old money town votes were somewhat diluted and for many years Labour were in power, and prior to that it was Lib Dem territory. Very rarely had the area voted Tory. With the boundary split however, the towns were divided straight down the Cleddau; Haverfordwest and Milford Haven ending up in the Preseli area, and Pembroke and the Dock contained in the South Pembs area. Labour held on to Pembroke for a few more years, largely due to the much loved Nick Ainger who was the MP at the time. Once he’d lost though, that was it. We’ve been blue ever since.
Simon Hart isn’t the most popular character locally, due to his penchant for fox hunting, and Simon Crabb is ever mocked for his sexting escapades with a 19 year old employee a few years back. Nevertheless, the over 65s repeatedly turn up in their droves to vote for them come election time. Voting figures for younger age groups all gave Labour as the most popular, although it’s not unknown for younger people locally to vote Tory. They are the ones who you’d say have “done well for themselves”. They see socialists as Marxist robbers and they’re terrified of having it all taken away. They see their tax hikes as a weapon, and that’s what the government are doing, squeezing these people until all they can see is the “chavs” getting the benefit of their labour.
It’s all a deliberate misunderstanding, cunningly spun about by the media in order to divide and conquer. Pembs is low on work, and so anyone with a bit of oomph will tend to find a niche and start their own business. West Wales is full of signwritten vans of names you remember from school and you always feel slightly impressed at how well they’ve done. But then they are conditioned to see those below them, the ones who didn’t follow that path, as inferior. The media shows them pictures of benefit scroungers taking advantage of their industriousness. And so, with that chasm nicely implanted, the Tories are able to persuade hard working people to come over to their side. They convince them that they have gone up a class, from a lad who wore hand me downs to a fella with his own flashy van. It’s an easy trick to play.
There’s also the old money aspect to the situation. Tenby, Saundersfoot, St Davids, are full of old money, old families that own everything in town, mass holiday home ownership and an economy to match. The gap between ‘have and have not’ is the most vast in places like this, especially as nowadays it’s not uncommon to see street homeless in Tenby, a previously unthinkable state of affairs.
It seems to be, that most people who would vote for a socialist government in order to improve the lot of all, including themselves, ultimately don’t see anyone worth voting for. As far as they’re concerned, politicians are all the same. If you pay no real attention to politics, and rely on what is fed to you as you go about your busy day, then you will perceive all the parties as saying more or less the same thing. You’ll hear constant arguments, but none of the things being talked about will benefit you. So you switch off.
Another reason of course is the large number of farmers in the area. The landowner class have always voted Tory. They would vote Tory under any circumstances. It’s what they’ve been brought up to do. At election time, blue signs cover every hedgerow, as well as the neat garden wall of anyone local who bought their house in 1980 for 4K and like to tell you it’s now worth over a quarter of a million.
The real deal then, is that for as long as there is no one worth voting for, as seen by the ones at the bottom of the pile, then West Wales will stay as cold blue as the Atlantic wind that batters it daily. Those with a reason to protect their interests will go out and vote. They think they understand what they’re voting for. Those at the bottom don’t bother to leave the house. And who can blame them?
One caveat though, for those comfortable in their place. Covid has shown the system as it exists to be way too precarious to keep everyone safe in their bubble forever. As small businesses fail, and business owners begin to feel cheated, watch how quickly everyone starts taking notice. When the NHS collapses and people realise their taxes aren’t going to save them if they go undiagnosed or receive shoddy care, then they will understand that it’s been a false illusion.
The boomers will see their investments disappear, and they’ll realise there is no care for them as they get older. Their closely guarded properties will be sold to pay some capitalist care home. That’s if they haven’t already lost everything by falling for an equity release plan. They’ll see that the Tories weren’t looking after them at all. Not even a little bit.
The current system is unsustainable. As the tablecloth is pulled away, the cups ain’t gonna stay on the table. It’s time for a new way. And once everyone sees that. It will be an avalanche. Just you wait and see.