The 'Merseyside effect' and why our city region bucks the trend

Merseyside has bucked national trends when it comes to voting
-Credit: (Image: Colin Lane/Liverpool Echo)

The general election is nearly upon us and in just a few days' time we'll know who will lead the country for the next five years.

Current polling suggests Sir Keir Starmer's Labour Party is on course for a huge win and the Conservatives could be banished from government losing hundreds of seats. This result would be a significant turnaround from five years ago, in 2019, when Boris Johnson led the Tories to a huge, 80-seat majority and Labour suffered a historic defeat.

That result saw a dramatic redrawing of the UK's electoral map with the Labour Party losing heartland areas to the Tories in the North and the Midlands. But while Labour lost heavily in that election, in one part of the country the party over-performed - that place was Merseyside.

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A new book called The Changing Electoral Map of England and Wales is looking at the different electoral trends in the country. One aspect of the book looks at why the idea of place is so important - with Merseyside its key example.

In the book, authors Jamie Furlong and Will Jennings write of how their analysis shows areas of the country where parties have more support than they would expect based on sociodemographic factors, "places where, in short, place matters". The book states: "In Merseyside, Labour’s vote is much higher than would be predicted by demographics while this is similarly the case for the Conservatives in Lincolnshire and parts of the West Midlands."

But what makes these areas distinctive? The book takes a close look at what it calls 'the Merseyside effect' and the factors that make this region often buck the national trend. The book states: "In the case of Merseyside specifically, we identify a number of factors as potentially contributing to the distinctive voting patterns in the region.

"There is a widespread anti-conservativism that has become part of Scouse identity that seems to have strengthened since the 1980s and 1990s for various reasons. First when the city suffered from serious economic decline for which blame was attributed to the Conservative Party and specifically Margaret Thatcher.

"Later as police, media and government responses to the Hillsborough disaster caused significant anger and strengthened anti-establishment views."

Another significant factor is: "The continued relationship between the football clubs and anti-establishment (or anti-Conservative) politics, reinforced through the provision of foodbanks, the boycott of the S*n newspaper and the booing of the national anthem (Liverpool FC)."

The authors add: "As Liverpool has undergone significant regeneration since the 1990s, people further out in Merseyside suburbs have become more positive in their views of the city. They have become more likely to construct their own identity as being from an increasingly ‘cosmopolitan’ and much more pro-Labour Merseyside and Liverpool rather than Lancashire or Cheshire.

"Their identities are increasingly tied to the cosmopolitanism but also the political culture (pro-Labour, anti-Conservative) of Liverpool rather than the more rural and somewhat more Conservative areas of Lancashire and Cheshire."

They added "while in many areas with similar demographic characteristics to Merseyside (e.g. parts of Yorkshire and Lancashire), there were big swings in 2015 to UKIP due to strong anti-immigration values, this never occurred across Merseyside.

"UKIP – in these areas - acted as a ‘gateway’ to the Conservatives for many once ‘lifetime’ Labour voters, as they eventually ended up voting for Boris Johnson in 2019. Yet on Merseyside, UKIP never achieved significant support, perhaps in part because for many voters, holding a Scouse identity is increasingly associated with a kind of openness and an acceptance of multiculturalism. The result is that the ‘gateway’ to voting Conservative simply never existed."

The level of Labour support across Merseyside could result in the entire region turning red for the first time in history following this coming week's vote. Currently Southport is the only Conservative seat in the region and has never been held by a Labour MP. Current polling suggests this will change after July 4.

In short, the 'Merseyside effect' could be more powerful than ever following this general election vote.

The Changing Electoral Map of England and Wales is available now.