Motorway Man – a materialistic and car-dependent middle manager – is at the centre of the cross-party tussle for victory in a tightly fought general election, the Financial Times has learnt.
Psephologists coined the “Mondeo Man” tag to describe suburban families in Kent who swung from the Tories to Labour in 1997.
Now they are turning towards new housing estates around the M61, the M6 and the M1 – home to salesmen and other white-collar workers who spend long hours on the road – in the search for the crucial voters who could enable David Cameron, Conservative party leader, to switch the electoral map back from red to blue.
Underlining their potentially pivotal role, Rob Hayward, the elections expert who is now advising the Tories on electoral reform, told the FT that there were 21 swing constituencies with good motorway links that could shift from Labour to the Conservatives.
“These are a series of constituencies with a number of new-style voters who have voted Labour for the last three elections and are now moving to the Tories,” he said.
Typically, they are “infill” areas where abandoned mines have been replaced by new housing estates, according to Mr Hayward. “They are inhabited by people who may be regional sales managers, reps, production managers – they need to be near a motorway to get around the country.”
The target constituencies include Morley and Outwood, near Leeds. If the Tories seized it they would achieve the coup of unseating schools secretary Ed Balls, a close ally of the prime minister.
Labour, too, is nervously eyeing Motorway Man amid growing signs that he is switching allegiance to the Conservatives.
One member of the cabinet, Peter Hain, told the FT that Labour had lost support in new housing estates populated by people who were “often travelling”.
There had been a fall in the number of people living in strong local communities and former pit villages which had always supported Labour, the Welsh secretary lamented.
“People are now working in more diverse jobs, often travelling, in a way they never did before. There are new housing estates everywhere,” said Mr Hain.
“The classic thing is where your mum and dad live in a solid Labour town but you move into one of the suburbs, a new housing estate, and you start to think a little differently about yourself.”
Constituencies on the Tory target list which are the natural habitat of Motorway Man include the two Milton Keynes seats, south Derbyshire, Rugby, Nuneaton, Tamworth, Stafford, Bolton West, Chorley and West Lancashire.
Mr Hayward said that the seats were defined by strikingly rapid population growth over the past decade as housing estates sprang up.
For example, South Derbyshire’s electorate has grown 12.4 per cent since 2000, against the UK average of 2.9 per cent. Warrington South and Rugby have also grown by 7 per cent.
The indications from last summer’s council elections are ominous for Labour, which lost control of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire – all of which contain key Motorway Man constituencies.