There is a game played in Workington every Easter. It’s called Uppies and Downies and would give any health-and-safety bureaucrat a bad attack of the vapours. Hundreds of young and not-so-young men divide ups into two hordes (sorry, teams) and spend hours trying to wrestle a small leather ball from the inland ‘upper’ bit of
There is a game played in Workington every Easter. It’s called Uppies and Downies and would give any health-and-safety bureaucrat a bad attack of the vapours.
Hundreds of young and not-so-young men divide ups into two hordes (sorry, teams) and spend hours trying to wrestle a small leather ball from the inland ‘upper’ bit of the town to the coastal ‘down’ bit, or vice versa.
Rules, being a southern namby-pamby concept, are essentially non-existent and it isn’t long before the game degenerates into a no-holds-barred muddy melee. The day ends with smiles, pints, donations to local charities and only the occasional minor injury.
This is the windswept coast of West Cumbria, muscular rugby league territory, and there is little time for snowflake metropolitan sensitivities, not least on Brexit.
For reasons rarely articulated in detail, people here want rid of the European Union and in the 2016 referendum voted by a healthy margin to throw off the Brussels yoke.
The eyes of political strategists have turned to the Cumbrian town of Workington, where a thinktank says the stereotypical older, male Labour voter could switch to the Tories
Workington Men David Exley, 64, (left) and Paul Johnston, 58, are among the residents of northern towns who will shape the coming election, if policy experts are correct
But hotelier Grant Payne, 74, (left) said other issues apart from Brexit would influence voters in the town. Retired Keith Ackerley, 72, (right) said he thought the election was a distraction from the real issues
Allerdale local authority, which includes Workington, voted 58.6 per cent to leave and 41.4 per cent to remain. This despite having a sitting Labour MP — shadow environment secretary Sue Hayman — who supported Remain and has obstructed Brexit ever since (while claiming she wants to honour the referendum result).
Workington statistics: Fewer graduates, higher unemployment and more over-65s than the national average
Sex: 49.3% male, 50.7% female
Unemployment: 9.2% (average for England – 4.3%)
Have a degree-level qualification: 15% (average for England – 27.4)
Age breakdown v average for England:
0 – 15: 17.9% (19.1); 16 – 64: 61% (62.8); Over 65: 21.1% (18)
Ethnicity: 85.4% white (UK average – 86), 20.2 BME
First language: 92% English
Place of birth: 83.5% England, 9.4%, other countries outside the UK and Ireland
Life expectancy –
Male: 78.9 (average for England – 79.5)
Female: 82.3 (83.1)
Relationship status: 46.6% married, 34.6 single
Four most common religions: 59.4% Christian, 24.7 no religion, 5 Muslim, 1.5 Hindu.
Sources: Cumbria Intelligence Observatory, Workington NHS, ONS.
Now a centre-Right think-tank called Onward has identified what it calls ‘Workington Man’, who will be key to success in the December General Election. This is an ‘older, white, non-graduate male from the north of England with an interest in rugby league and a tendency to vote Labour’.
The thinking has it that this kind of blue-collar voter will have little time for arcane debate about single markets and customs unions and simply expects the referendum result to be honoured. Leave, for Workington Man, means ‘bloody well leave’.
Fertile territory, then, for Boris Johnson in his drive to convert dyed-in-the-wool Labour Leave voters to the Conservative cause and compensate for Remain Tories expected to defect to the Liberal Democrats and SNP in the coming election.
Workington Man is, of course, not confined to Cumbria. His heartlands — or so Tory strategists imagine — are also to be found in the North-East and parts of the East Midlands, regions afflicted by industrial decline where people feel they have been ignored and bypassed by an Establishment focused on the affluent South-East.
Workington Man is the latest in a series of sub-species dreamt up by policy wonks trying to identify promising targets in general elections.
First there was Essex Man, self-reliant, aspirational and potentially Thatcherite if only he could be weaned off his traditional habit of voting Labour.
Then there was Mondeo Man, Tony Blair’s dream convert. He was supplanted by Worcester Woman, a Tory-voting working-class mother who might vote Labour if it helped her family’s lot.
And so on through Pebbledash People (a Tory concept of 2001) and the Bacardi Breezers (alienated 18 to 25-year-olds) to Motorway Man (that most precious commodity, the floating voter).
Political gurus in the Tory party hope they can cash in place like Workington in December
Frederick Chandler (left) is closer to the ‘Workington Man’ idea, saying he is considering switching from Labour to the Tories. Jim Thompson, 75, (right) said he felt ignored by the area’s Labour MP
Ken Hyde said he hoped too many people wouldn’t vote for the Brexit Party, so that Jeremy Corbyn ‘wouldn’t get a look in’
Cliche-ridden and patronising is one response to this kind of profiling. But that it persists suggests there must be something to it.
The people themselves, however, don’t like being categorised, especially by inhabitants of the Westminster bubble.
And there are plenty in Workington who yesterday were expressing the view that this concept could backfire on the Tories, even though it was not their idea. Allan Mitchell, 53, a civil servant, says people from the area ‘don’t like being patronised’.
Lord O’Shaughnessy, former Director of Policy for David Cameron, wrote the report from which the Tories’ idea of ‘Workington Man’ emanated. He produced the report for Onward, a group which was founded by Will Tanner (right), a former adviser to Theresa May
Workington high street today. Some said they welcomed more attention for their area but others felt ‘patronised’ by the view of voters
A graphic showing where the vote will be won and lost throughout the country in the snap poll taking place on December 12
‘With Workington being a fairly marginal seat I can understand the Conservatives looking for any angle to gain more votes.
‘But the idea that we’re all simple Northerners without university degrees, and all attend rugby league matches at the weekend, is causing widespread offence. It’s a cliche that belongs in the 1970s.’
Workington’s 25,000 population are used to being overlooked, isolated as they are on a coast served neither by fast railways nor fast roads.
The town has an end-of-the line feel, its rows of unremarkable-looking homes contrasting with the majestic Lakeland hills beyond.
Unemployment, at 9.2 per cent, is twice the average for England. Only 15 per cent of the population have degrees, compared with a national average of 27.4 per cent, and the pensioner population is marginally bigger than average. Since the Workington constituency was created in 1918, the Conservatives have yet to win the seat in a general election. However, Tory Richard Page held it for three years after a 1976 by-election, the only non-Labour MP to do so.
Workington has traditionally voted Labour but is the kind of constituency Boris Johnson is hoping to win over before December 12
The likely manifestos for Boris Johnson’s Tories and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party for the upcoming December 12 election
Labour’s majority, once weighed rather than counted, has declined and the seat is now winnable for the Tories but not a certainty.
Ryan Rodgers, 37, a boiler operator, has lived in Workington all his life and says things on the ground are more complicated than the new label suggests.
‘There are so many sides to the story. More things than Brexit will influence the way people vote. I work for a Swedish company and I’m regretting voting for Brexit.’
Hotelier Grant Payne, 74, also thinks the stereotype is misleading. ‘I voted to leave the EU but I’m not sure people will be focusing on Brexit when they vote in the General Election,’ he says. ‘The main focus here will be on jobs.’
At the last election, Labour won 51 per cent of the vote against the Conservatives’ 41 per cent. It will require a 6 per cent swing to land it in Boris Johnson’s net.
But some Workington males appear to back Johnson’s thesis.
Retired industrial process engineer Frederick Chandler, 69, has traditionally voted Labour, but may vote Conservative on December 12 ‘because of the mess Parliament has made with Brexit’.
Jim Thompson, 75, a retired chemist, agrees: ‘Our Labour MP hasn’t taken any notice of us voting to leave. I’ll be voting Conservative. People haven’t heard anything from Corbyn. He’s on the fence, off the fence, fallen off the fence?’
Certainly, Workington has seen better times. Steel and coal were once its sources of wealth, but these industries were whittled away over the years, leaving a gap that has only been partially filled by the nuclear industry.
The town is home to some of the most deprived council wards in the country, and its run-down centre is full of discount and charity shops.
Whatever people’s misgivings about Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn, this is a tribal Labour seat and a tough nut for Johnson to crack.
Keith Ackerley, 72, has lived in Workington for 50 years and is a Labour voter. He and his wife Mary, 68, both voted Leave and are frustrated it has not been delivered.
But the retired painter and decorator says: ‘I’ll still be voting Labour… I’m just a common person. I don’t own anything… I don’t think Workington will swing to Conservative. There’s too many working-class people here.’
This town of Uppies and Downies has been down on its luck for some time. If Boris Johnson wants its votes, he had better come up with solid reasons why. Workington Man is many men — and their opinions differ.
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn trade blows at fiery last PMQs before election battle: PM draws battle lines for December 12 poll with promise of ‘unprecedented NHS funding’ and attack on Labour leader over ‘flip-flopping’ Brexit stance
By James Tapsfield, Political Editor for MailOnline
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn traded the first blows of the election battle at a fiery PMQs session today.
Mr Johnson insisted the Tories are the real party of the NHS as he faced off against the Labour leader for the last time before Parliament dissolves for the campaign.
He dismissed claims from Mr Corbyn that the government is preparing to ‘sell out’ the health service in a trade deal with the US.
Mr Johnson said the NHS was receiving ‘unrivalled and unprecedented sums of taxpayers money’ under the Conservatives. Mr Corbyn was ‘out of his mind’ to try to stop the public and private sectors cooperating to provide better care, he insisted.
Mr Johnson sought to rally his troops for the pre- Christmas showdown by attacking Jeremy Corbyn at a brutal PMQs session in the Commons
The clashes came as Tory and Labour strategists finalise their plans for a ‘mega tough’ and incredibly volatile struggle, where local factors are expected to play a pivotal role.
Experts have warned that Mr Johnson’s strident call to ‘get Brexit done’ and blueprint for a loose, Canada-style relationship with the EU could lose his party at least 20 seats to the unashamedly pro-Remain Lib Dems and SNP.
Key battlegrounds will include Cheltenham in Gloucestershire and Stirling north of the border.
To offset the anticipated losses the Conservatives must make significant progress against Labour – probably requiring at least 50 gains to get Mr Johnson the working majority that he craves.
Will Boris Johnson switch to a safer seat?
The PM faces a tough fight to hold his own constituency – leading to claims he could switch to a safer seat to avoid the risk of humiliation.
Boris Johnson is MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, where he has a majority of just 5,034 over Labour.
It would take a swing of just over 5 per cent to snatch the seat – and Corbynista group Momentum will target it with hundreds of volunteers.
Their ‘Unseat Boris’ campaign would make Mr Johnson the first premier to lose his seat in an election in modern times. Labour claims he will announce in the next few days that he will take the ‘chicken run’ and stand for a seat with a much larger Tory majority.
Downing Street described the rumours as ‘tosh and nonsense’.
Uxbridge in West London – traditionally true blue – has been represented by Mr Johnson since 2015. When he first stood, he clocked up a majority of 10,695. But this halved in Theresa May’s disastrous election of 2017.
Labour has chosen Ali Milani, a 25-year-old Muslim, as their candidate.
The campaign is getting under way after MPs finally backed a Government Bill for a poll on Thursday, December 12, after weeks of dither and delay by opposition parties.
Mr Johnson said a ‘revitalised’ House of Commons would let Britain leave the EU in the new year.
Jeremy Corbyn, who backed an election just 24 hours after refusing to do so, said Labour would kick out the ‘reckless’ Conservatives and deliver a socialist Britain.
The Prime Minister told MPs the election – the first in December since 1923 – would deliver Brexit after months of ‘unrelenting parliamentary obstructionism’.
He later addressed Tory backbenchers, giving what one claimed was a ‘King Henry V to Agincourt-type speech’.
He told them the campaign would be ‘mega-tough’, and urged them to pull out all the stops for victory.
Conservative MP Robert Halfon said: ‘He said forget about the polls, forget about everything you read, this is going to be an incredibly tough election.
‘No one wants to do an election in December, it’s going to be mega-tough and it’s going to be one of the toughest elections we could ever do.’
The election breakthrough came after the Liberal Democrats and SNP broke ranks with Labour and backed an early poll in which they hope to benefit from Mr Corbyn’s unpopularity with voters.
But election experts yesterday warned a 2019 vote – the third General Election in four years – was likely to be the most unpredictable thanks to the prevalence of smaller parties.
Boris Johnson (left in Downing Street last night) is facing off with Jeremy Corbyn (right leaving his London home this morning) in the Commons later
Labour MPs ‘don’t want to back Jeremy Corbyn as PM’ as former leadership hopeful Owen Smith QUITS and more than 100 of his own troops REFUSE to get behind snap election
Jeremy Corbyn faces a huge battle to keep Labour together during the snap election today amid claims some of his own MPs don’t want to see him as PM.
The veteran left-winger insists he is ‘ready’ for the dramatic pre-Christmas contest, describing it as a ‘once in a generation chance for change’.
But the scale of infighting within the party was underlined last night when more than 100 of his own MPs ignored his orders to back holding a snap election.
Meanwhile, former leadership contender Owen Smith has announced he will not be standing in his Pontypridd constituency, citing ‘political and personal reasons’.
Former leadership contender Owen Smith has announced he will not be standing in his Pontypridd constituency, citing ‘political and personal reasons’
Labour MPs have ridiculed Mr Corbyn and his aides for believing they are on the ‘brink of a brave new socialist dawn’, despite grim polls for the party and him personally.
One told MailOnline: ‘They think it is going to happen, he will be walking into No10. A lot of Labour MPs don’t even want that.’
Labour was effectively dragged kicking and screaming into backing an election last night.
For weeks the shadow cabinet and backbenchers had been holding back Mr Corbyn and his closest allies, who were desperate for a poll that is widely seen as the 70-year-old’s last chance for power.
But despite voting down a motion to call an election on Monday, Labour was outflanked when it became clear Boris Johnson had secured Liberal Democrat and SNP support for a Bill triggering a ballot in December.