With the next General Election scheduled for 12 December 2019, already the political marketeers are working in overdrive and this time, they have created a political caricature known as 'The Workington Man' who supersedes the Mondeo Man, Sierra Man and Worcester Woman who have gone before.
Who Is the Workington Man?
The Workington Man is described by the Conservative think-tank 'Onward' as the stereotypical older, white, non-graduate, male who lives in a rugby league town in the north of England and voted 'leave' in the Brexit referendum in 2016.
Other characteristics of the Workington Man described by the political marketeers include the fact that they have usually lived in the same house for more than ten years and that they are either a skilled manual worker or in a lower management job. The Workington Man feels that crime and immigration are major issues and is sceptical about the benefits of globalisation. The Workington Man is the type of voter that Boris Johnson and the Tories must win over if they are going to win the December General Election with a working majority.
In the last election, Labour won by 51% in Workington over the Conservatives' 41%. Political experts predict that the Conservatives will need to gain 6% of votes from 'swing voters' to secure the keys to No 10. Traditionally, Workington has been a safe Labour seat and the party won by 4,000 seats in the last election, whilst in Carlisle and Copeland, Labour won with smaller majorities.
Will Tanner, director of Onward, said: 'This election will be the most volatile in living memory and no party should be complacent. But it is clear that the Conservatives' path to victory runs through working-class rugby league towns like Workington, Warrington and Wigan, which usually do not give them a second thought – as well as the party's leafy heartlands in the South of England.'
These somewhat patronising political characterisations of The Workington Man are popular with the political marketeers, who have successfully used such caricatures since the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher was PM. Not surprisingly though, the caricatures are usually hated by the section of the community they describe. Labour MP for Workington, Sue Hayman says that many of her constituents feel belittled by the title, whilst many of the town's men say that the description is old-fashioned and patronising.
Brexit and the Workington Man
Nevertheless, political experts firmly believe that this is the type of voter that holds the key to success for Boris Johnson and the Tories in the general election. Nigel Farage, Leader of the Brexit Party also describes the portrayal of The Workington Man as patronising.
In reality, these caricatures can actually prove damaging because they encourage political candidates to focus their message on just one section of the community rather than delivering facts and ideas that will appeal to many different groups. Importantly, in modern politics, candidates need to be truthful and non-contradictory in what they say to appeal to all sections of the community so that trust is fostered in voters of all ages, backgrounds and professions. Politicians should definitely not be targeting certain parts of the population but taking part in a national debate that will resonate with many.
Hot on the heels of the unveiling of The Workington Man caricature, the Conservatives announced a multi-billion pound package to help towns in the north of England and the Midlands by rejuvenating their high streets and supporting their small local businesses.
This will definitely be viewed as a godsend by residents in Workington which is situated on the west coast of Cumbria. Workington is a place where many young people tend to move away in search of work, but people choose to retire in the town because of the natural beauty of its surrounding countryside.
Where Is the Workington Man From?
Workington is situated on the banks of the River Derwent and was an ancient market town with some parts dating from Roman times. In the 18th century, local iron ore and coal were mined for the first time and the town quickly developed and its port was built. Ship building began and it was in the town that Henry Bessemer invented steel making which brought the town great prosperity. Sadly, coal is no longer mined and the last steel was made in Workington in 2006.
Today, the largest local employers are the Sellafield nuclear plant in Copeland, plus a Swedish-owned paper factory. Other local industries focus on tourism (the beautiful Lake District is on the town's doorstep) plus farming and food production. Many of these businesses are located in the town's Clay Flatts Industrial Estate. With the spotlight firmly swung on the town, is Workington a place worth considering as a place to live?
Workington is a town with a population of about 25,000 people and like Maryport, comes under the borough of Allerdale which topped the Life Satisfaction Index compiled by Hamptons International as offering a happier quality of life and more affordable home. Certainly property prices are lower here than in Keswick and Cockermouth as well as many other parts of the UK, with a three bed semi-detached house costing about £89,000.
The lifestyle is very different in the town as it is surrounded by natural beauty and the Northern Lakes are conveniently close for mountain biking, fell walking, sailing and winter sports. The popular sea-to-sea cycle route links Workington with Whitehaven and there is a good golf course at Hunday Wood. The downside is that the weather is generally colder and wetter in western Cumbria than in many other parts of the UK.
Other negatives include a lack of major cultural events (although the town does have several theatres and cinemas), its distance to international airports and also its sketchy public transport. The positive flip side, is that Workington is within two hours’ drive of the cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle, with Manchester a little further away at two and a half hours.
How Much Does the Workington Man Earn?
The main big difference between Workington and other areas is that the average wage in the town is £511.04 per week, compared with the national average of £520.80 – but, as compensation, many costs are lower. For families there are good schools with three secondary schools and six primary schools including one that is in the top 20% of the county's Key Stage 2 schools. There is also the UTC Sixth Form College in the town. The regeneration of the town's centre has already begun with the creation of a £50 million shopping centre in Washington Square which will secure the town's position as the main retail centre on the west coast of Cumbria.
How Is the Property Market in Workington?
With the spotlight now firmly on Workington, it is interesting to look at its property market which is surprisingly buoyant. Housing in the town is dominated by pre-1919 terraced houses that were built to accommodate low paid workers working in the local industries. These houses have good sized rooms and open immediately onto the street at the front, with a rear courtyard rather than a garden, behind. Some of these terraced houses as well as a number of semi-detached houses are on three floors to give maximum floor area.
The top end of the housing market – smart detached houses with generous gardens are found in Banklands which is just off Park End Road. These were originally built for managers working in the local industries. Interestingly, there has been few new developments in the town which ensures that there is a demand and investment in the older properties. With an average price tag of £65,000, the town's terraced houses are perfect for first time buyers and those on lower incomes. They are also attractive to buy-to-let investors. South of the town there is an estate of social housing.
The Zoopla Zed Index indicates that property prices have risen 2.64% over the last three months and Rightmove states that the annual increase to November 2019 has been 12%. These figures reflect the housing boom that has been recorded for the same period in Cockermouth. The majority of property sales during this period were of terraced houses with an average price tag of £88,023, with semi-detached properties averaging £131,986 and detached properties, £215,369.
Back to politics and the Survation Poll for the Daily Mail has recently shown that the Conservatives are on course to win the Workington seat by more than 4,000 votes – a swing of ten points from Labour. With the Tory pledge of more regeneration in such towns as Workington and low property prices that have increased by 12% in the last year alone, perhaps Workington is the ideal place to consider buying a property.