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Tenants, a new electoral coalition?

Tenants, a new electoral coalition?
Tenants, a new electoral coalition?

 


ByMaria Sobolewska,Professor of Political Science, University of Manchester

Getty Images Montage showing a protest against rising rents with a protester holding a banner reading Getty Images

Margaret Thatcher had Essex Man and New Labor boasted Mondeo Man. David Cameron secured the Mumsnet Mums and for Boris Johnson it was Workington Man. They symbolize all the voters who changed their vote in the election, thus deciding who will lose and who will win.

So what about 2024? When shaping key voting blocs, it is possible that Renter Ruth could be key if Labor is to win, as polls currently suggest. Over the past decade, the number of renters has increased while the Conservative Party has seen its share of support within the group decline.

In 2022-23, the private rented sector in England represented 4.6 million, or 19% of households, around double its size in the early 2000s, according to the English Housing Survey. This is more than those who rent social housing.

Issues affecting tenants have never been more politically visible, from safety after the Grenfell Tower tragedy to attempts to ban no-fault evictions after the Covid pandemic. The housing affordability crisis has also created more renters than ever, especially in the private sector.

Getty Images Protest against rent increases.  A protester holds a sign reading Getty Images

The Conservative Party manifesto pledges to eventually ban no-fault evictions. The party first proposed the policy in 2019, but the bill did not become law until the end of the last parliamentary term.

Labour's manifesto says it will abolish no-fault evictions and allow tenants to challenge what are described as unreasonable rent increases. Keir Starmer said Labor would pass new laws to prevent rental “bidding wars” if his party wins the election.

The Liberal Democrats also pledge to ban no-fault evictions and say they would make three-year tenancies the default. The Greens also support an end to no-fault evictions and say they want the introduction of long-term tenancies.

The Reform Party does not support the tenant reform bill introduced in the previous legislature. They say this will strengthen the monitoring, appeals and enforcement process for tenants with grievances.

With all parties vying for tenant support and their policy proposals often overlapping, how could this influential bloc make a difference on July 4?

There are quite a few constituencies with high numbers of private renters where this vote could well decide the outcome. In London, seats such as Kensington and Bayswater, Finchley and Golders Green and Chipping Barnet, where more than 20% of residents are private renters, are held by the Conservative Party but may be vulnerable. Similar situations exist outside of London, with Conservative seats like Colchester, Eastbourne, Cheltenham and in Red Wall, Burnley, all constituencies where over 20% of the population are private renters and which are now being targeted by Labor or the Liberal Democrats.

So how will tenants vote? People living in social housing are more likely to be from a working class or ethnic minority background, and have historically been more likely to lean left. But the trend toward Labor support among private renters is relatively new.

Getty Images A hand holding a keyGetty Images

In the 2010 general election, private sector renters were as likely to vote for the Conservatives as for Labour: both parties received around 26% of the vote.

In 2015, the situation changed, with Labor gaining a 15 percentage point advantage over the Conservatives. Under the previous Conservative-led coalition government, housing benefit reforms were introduced, making it harder to access housing for those who relied on benefits to help them rent in the private sector.

Since then, this divide has solidified, worsened by the age divide linked to Brexit and immigration. In recent years, voting patterns have increasingly diverged by age, with younger people increasingly leaning towards the Labor Party in particular. Most private tenants are relatively young.

It's younger voters who are most likely to say housing is one of the top issues facing the country. It is considered one of the top three issues for 18-34 year olds according to the IPSOS Issue Tracker and is not as important for older groups. .

Young people seem far more likely to vote for Labor than any other party, but it is also true that the Green Party enjoys the highest poll numbers among the same group.

For Labor, there is also a very real risk that private renters will not vote at all.

Not only are young people much less likely to vote than their older counterparts, but renters are also less likely to vote than homeowners.

This has always been the case, but was made worse by the 2014 reforms to electoral registration, which Electoral Commission research found disproportionately affected renters, who move much more often.

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