Brexit has redrawn Britain’s political map with the Tories resurgent in towns battling economic decline, a new report has said.
Research by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) said the UK is now a ‘city vs town’ country, with urban areas reaping the rewards of global growth, while coastal and rural towns were left behind.
And the more economic decline an area was suffering, the better the Tories performed, the study found. By contrast, Labour was seeing its vote surge among metropolitan city folk.
The swing to Labour from the Tories at the June General Election was more than twice as big in English cities, 10.2%, as it was in English small towns, 4.1%.
The Conservative share of the vote has soared in small towns since 2005, going up from 34.5% to 48%, whereas Labour support remained stable.
Labour MP Lisa Nandy said politicians must “think seriously” about how to empower and grow towns in order to win a General Election and heal some of the bitter divides exposed by the EU Referendum.
The Wigan MP said:“This compelling report sets out a stark challenge for all political parties about how to meet the growing sense of frustration in towns, big and small, who feel nobody really speaks for them.
“It shows that too often towns do well despite our economic model, which has failed to protect the historical identity that matters to people in towns across the country.
“With Brexit exposing the gulf between towns and cities, politicians of all parties need to start speaking up for towns and think seriously about how our towns can thrive in the global economy.”
The NEF proposed a “manifesto for towns”, which included boosting job opportunities in areas like retail, utilities, health and education.
Investment in infrastructure and the decentralisation of political institutions was also urged.
Will Brett, from the NEF, said: “The vote to leave the European Union in 2016 laid bare some of the urgent problems in our economy. For millions of people, these problems are expressed most clearly in their home towns.
“Many towns are being left high and dry, disconnected from global growth and sidelined by our economy. These are places which people call home. They are infused with history and meaning, they serve as anchors for people’s identity, and yet they are being left behind.”
Tory MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan turned Berwick-upon-Tweed, England’s most northerly constituency, blue, in 2015, overturning a sizeable Lib Dem majority after leading a campaign for a multi-million pound investment in roads for the area.
And after taking a high-profile role in the Brexit campaign which followed, she more than doubled her majority in June, despite Labour improving their vote share by almost 10%.
She said the report was “interesting”, adding: “We need to provide our market towns with the infrastructure that supports supply chains and jobs which allow people the choice of where they want to live without worrying whether their livelihood will be affected.
“Some of the great market towns in my constituency like Berwick, Alnwick, Rothbury, Wooler and Amble show how communities can thrive as communities providing a great home for business, families and those who are retiring.”
Brett added: “[The NEF is] working with people in towns all over the country to start building better local economies from the ground up. These are people with a deep desire to gain some control over the economy where they live.
“But they need help. They need better local jobs, more sensitive local infrastructure and power resting closer to their home towns. Our manifesto for towns would help ease the divisions between cities and towns. It would be a first step in building a better economy which works for all, no matter where they live.”