Trying to label the vital voters who make all the difference in a close-run general election is not always easy.
But a new demographic character called “Motorway Man” has been defined by Rob Hayward (you may remember the ever-wise Hayward told you about the potential clash between football fixtures and the election TV debate long before it made the news this weekend).
Motorway Man is an aspirational character, maybe a sales rep or similar, who typically lives in a new housing estate on an “infill” former mining area near to a motorway. He used to vote Labour – or his parents did – but is now a Tory. The critical point is that these areas have been growing, population-wise, faster than the rest of the country.
If you think this sounds tenuous, we ran a graphic in Friday’s FT showing the 21 marginal constituencies which lay along just three motorways; M6, M1 and M61. They include Morley & Outwood, which is being contested by Ed Balls, education secretary.
Even Peter Hain recognises the existence of this new character. “Labour can no longer depend on the old basis of its appeal – a deep almost cultural attachment in mining communities,” the Welsh secretary told me in an interview last week.
“People are now working in more diverse jobs, often travelling, in a way they never did before. There are new housing estates everywhere.”
Speaking of swing seats, the News of the World has a poll* today suggesting a 38-seat majority for the Tories – based on an 8.5 per cent swing in key marginals. Labour may take some solace from the fact aht nearly 80 per cent of those polled thought Gordon Brown was “trying to do a good job in difficult circumstances”.
As Fraser Nelson puts it:
“Cameron looks set to pull off the biggest pro-Tory swing since 1935 – yet may still have barely enough MPs to pass laws. A majority of 38 means it would take just 20 disgruntled Tories to defeat the government. Or hold Cam to ransome.”
To listen to Philip Gould debate Motorway Man with Haywood here is Saturday’s Today programme, which I had missed.
* Ignore the idea that Alistair Darling will lose his seat. Of course it is not impossible. But straight Labour-Tory opinion polls don’t really work in Scotland, where the Conservatives are less popular and the SNP wins many votes.