Unchecked UK’s Red Wall Realists Project

Unchecked UK’s ‘Red Wall Realists’ project is an in-depth audience insights project carried out in former Red Wall constituencies that changed hands from the Labour Party to the Conservative Party in December 2019.

The project included ten teleforums, as well as a number of participant video-selfie ‘pretests’. All of the participants in the teleforums had voted Conservative for the first time in December 2019, usually having voted for the Labour Party in the past. A total of 52 swing voters recorded video-selfies for the project, and 40 of these voters then took part in 75 minute long teleforums.

The first wave of research in the constituencies of Heywood & Middleton and West Bromwich East took place in June 2020. These conversations covered a range of topics related to regulation and deregulation. In September 2020 we carried out further teleforums with voters in Burnley, North West Durham, and Wrexham, with a tighter focus on food and farming, and on climate change mitigation. 

The project was delivered for Unchecked UK by KSBR Brand Futures.

Unchecked UK’s Red Wall Realists Project

Unchecked UK’s ‘Red Wall Realists’ project is an in-depth audience insights project carried out in former Red Wall constituencies that changed hands from the Labour Party to the Conservative Party in December 2019.

The project included ten teleforums, as well as a number of participant video-selfie ‘pretests’. All of the participants in the teleforums had voted Conservative for the first time in December 2019, usually having voted for the Labour Party in the past. A total of 52 swing voters recorded video-selfies for the project, and 40 of these voters then took part in 75 minute long teleforums.

The first wave of research in the constituencies of Heywood & Middleton and West Bromwich East took place in June 2020. These conversations covered a range of topics related to regulation and deregulation. In September 2020 we carried out further teleforums with voters in Burnley, North West Durham, and Wrexham, with a tighter focus on food and farming, and on climate change mitigation. 

The project was delivered for Unchecked UK by KSBR Brand Futures.

Meet the Red Wall Realists

The swing voters in our teleforums were patriotic and pragmatic, focused on getting by day-to-day. They are focused on their local area, and very keen to see the towns where they live prosper in the future, after what many feel has been a period of decline. When it comes to leaders they admire strength and decisiveness. We found these voters to be supportive of state intervention, and keen to see cuts to public services reversed, but also very cynical and distrusting of politicians. They are strongly sceptical about the motives of large corporations, with more enthusiasm for local small and medium-sized companies.

A strong majority of our teleforum participants had voted to leave the European Union in 2016. When we asked them about the issues which concerned them in their local area they often talked about the death of the High Street, about crime and anti-social behaviour, increasing homelessness, and a lack of opportunities for young people.

Few regretted their decision to vote Conservative in December 2019, albeit for many this was a vote against Jeremy Corbyn and to “get Brexit done”, rather than an enthusiastic endorsement of the Conservative Party.

Key characteristics

  • in favour of strong and well-enforced rules

  • admire strength and efficacy

  • supportive of state intervention, but distrusting of politicians

  • feel that their local areas have been ignored for a long time

  • focused on immediate local issues

  • patriotic

  • mostly voted for Brexit

Attitudes to regulation

These voters strongly support effective rules and regulations, and identify five reasons why regulations are needed in every day life:

Protect people

“I think we need to have rules there, to protect our families, and individuals, so we look after each other. We shouldn’t obviously break any rules or regulations. That’s what the law is there for, to look after us.”

– Adam, 38, West Bromwich East

Protect people

“I think we need to have rules there, to protect our families, and individuals, so we look after each other. We shouldn’t obviously break any rules or regulations. That’s what the law is there for, to look after us.”

– Adam, 38, West Bromwich East

Uphold British high standards

“We need trade deals with leaving the EU, but we should maintain our standards, we shouldn’t adopt the standards of anywhere else because it’s not acceptable. Let’s make Britain great again by keeping our standards up. Let’s be leaders of the world in food quality.”

– Tony, 56, Burnley

Uphold British high standards

“We need trade deals with leaving the EU, but we should maintain our standards, we shouldn’t adopt the standards of anywhere else because it’s not acceptable. Let’s make Britain great again by keeping our standards up. Let’s be leaders of the world in food quality.”

– Tony, 56, Burnley

Level the playing field

“Otherwise we’d be a lawless society wouldn’t we? If you play the game and you haven’t got rules, there isn’t an end result is there, and it doesn’t become fair.”

– Mary, 57, Heywood and Middleton

Level the playing field

“Otherwise we’d be a lawless society wouldn’t we? If you play the game and you haven’t got rules, there isn’t an end result is there, and it doesn’t become fair.”

– Mary, 57, Heywood and Middleton

Enforce respect and decency

“I do believe strongly that we need them [rules], and I do believe that without them it would be a very, very different society and quite possibly not one that I would want to live in.”

– Emma, 48, Wrexham

Enforce respect and decency

“I do believe strongly that we need them [rules], and I do believe that without them it would be a very, very different society and quite possibly not one that I would want to live in.”

– Emma, 48, Wrexham

Educate ‘others’ to live better

“The people who fly tip haven’t been told the rules of the country, so if you’re going to allow people to come in, we should explain how we live and they have to live by those rules.”

– Maureen, 57, Heywood and Middleton

Educate ‘others’ to live better

“The people who fly tip haven’t been told the rules of the country, so if you’re going to allow people to come in, we should explain how we live and they have to live by those rules.”

– Maureen, 57, Heywood and Middleton

How Red Wall Realists talk about regulation

We found the following ways of talking about regulation chimed with the concerns of Red Wall swing voters:

  • As a bold way of addressing real-world problems and injustices.

  • As a way of delivering concrete solutions which will impact these voters’ local area.

  • As ‘strong or weak’ rather than ‘less or more’.

  • As a way to ‘level the playing field’ and ‘enforce respect’.

  • As a reflection of British character / values / strength.

  • As a way of strengthening ‘Great British standards’ as part of a post-Brexit UK.

How Red Wall Realists talk about regulation

We found the following ways of talking about regulation chimed with the concerns of Red Wall swing voters:

  • As a bold way of addressing real-world problems and injustices.

  • As a way of delivering concrete solutions which will impact these voters’ local area.

  • As ‘strong or weak’ rather than ‘less or more’.

  • As a way to ‘level the playing field’ and ‘enforce respect’.

  • As a reflection of British character / values / strength.

  • As a way of strengthening ‘Great British standards’ as part of a post-Brexit UK.

Read more about this research

Our latest report takes an in-depth look at Red Wall voters’ attitudes to food standards and regulations. Register here to be notified of future publications.  

In depth: attitudes to food regulation

We are grateful to the funders of this project for their generous support: The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Jam Today, and Gower Street.