Northern 'rugby league' towns should be in Conservatives' sights for general election, says think tank

A think tank group has urged the Conservative party to target 'rugby league' towns  in order to gain key regional seats. Picture: SWPix
A think tank group has urged the Conservative party to target 'rugby league' towns in order to gain key regional seats. Picture: SWPix

The Conservatives will have to target traditional Labour voters from regional towns such as St Helens, Wigan, Warrington and Workington in order to win the Christmas general election, according to a think tank.


Right-of-centre Onward said "Workington man" will be a key swing voter for the Tories as well as the latest entry in a tradition of voter demographic stereotypes.

Onward said the Tories will need to target the average "middle England" voter who is an older, white, non-graduate man from the North of England, with strong rugby league traditions and a tendency to vote Labour.

The group urged the party to target towns including St Helens, Halifax, Warrington, Wigan and Workington in order to gain these key regional seats.

James O'Shaughnessy, a Conservative peer and former Downing Street director of policy, said: "For the Conservatives to win a majority at the upcoming general election requires a leap of faith by people who have never voted Tory before.

"These voters are not nostalgic; they don't believe there was a golden age we need to return to. They're looking for change, but change that delivers greater security in their lives, not more exposure to the harsh winds of globalisation."

Since the Workington constituency was created in 1918, the Conservatives have never won the seat as a result of a general election.

Tory Richard Page held the seat for three years following the 1976 by-election and has been the only non-Labour MP to ever represent the constituency which backed Leave in 2016.

However, the idea of the blue rosette succeeding in Labour heartlands across the north of England drew a sharp response from Wigan MP Lisa Nandy.

She wrote on social media: "I’d never take a single vote for granted but I’m not sure a London think tank is well placed to understand the traditions, history and solidarity in rugby league towns.

"The Tories devastated our communities in the 1980s and again in recent years and we do not forget."

All parties will be looking to gain voters from their oppositions while maintaining holds on their existing constituencies at the general election.

The use of voter stereotypes as a targeting tactic dates back to at least Margaret Thatcher's repeated electoral wins in the 1980s where the working-class "Essex man" switched allegiance from Labour to the Tories.

In 1996, "Mondeo man" was singled out for Labour after then-leader Tony Blair recalled canvassing with a voter who owned a Ford Sierra car which was later superseded by the Ford Mondeo.

"Worcester woman" was also targeted by Mr Blair's campaign during the 1997 election as a working-class mother who traditionally voted Conservative but would consider voting Labour if it improved her family's life.

Next came the "Pebbledash people" for the Conservatives in 2001 - middle-aged professional couples who live in semi-detached, often pebble-dashed homes in the suburbs.

In 2003, former cabinet minister Stephen Byers urged Labour to reach out to the "Bacardi Breezer generation" of alienated 18 to 25-year-olds.

Both "Holby City Woman" and "Motorway man" were used in the 2010 election.

The former is a female voter in her 30s or 40s who works in the public sector, cares about social issues and leans towards Labour, while "Motorway men" are floating voters.

The December 12 election will be the third in three years and the first to be held in December since 1923.