MPs of Tory marginals with high unemployment could soon join that dole queue.
Pity Conal Gregory, Tory MP for York. With a wafer thin majority of 147, he faces an uphill task if he wishes to retain his seat.
York's 46% rise in unemployment during the past year will mean a whole new and understandably bitter group of voters. One may easily suppose they disagree with the Lamont view of unemployment as a 'price well worth paying' to bring down inflation. In fact, if just a handful of the 1,600 newly unemployed in York voted Tory and now desert, Gregory will soon be back in the wine trade, from whence he was plucked after his 1983 election victory.
But as our table shows, Gregory may not be alone. Of the 10 most marginal Tory constituencies outside London covered by local Travel to Work areas (the employment catchment areas within which people commute to work), nine have seen unemployment rocket past the sitting member's majority. Only in Stirling does arch dry Michael Forsyth have the 'comfort' of a 948 majority' against a 371 rise in unemployment, though the particular unpopularity of the Scottish Tories may get him instead.
As John Major plots his election timing, the unemployment situation is - all pundits reckon - going to worsen. A Management Today analysis of unemployment in the 228 Travel to Work areas in England - the bedrock of the Tory party - shows that in the year from June 1990 (when unemployment was at its lowest for the year) to July 1991, some 66 areas (or 29%) have experienced a 100% or more growth in unemployment. Of the 66, all but one - Paddy Ashdown's Yeovil constituency - are held by Tory Mps, and all but four are south of the Wash to Severn line, which for the last dozen years has been solidly Blue on the electoral map.
Although in places such as Newbury or Tunbridge Wells increases in unemployment of over 200% may not be enough to dislodge huge Tory majorities, which can be counted on in the same way as Labour can rely on the vote in South Wales, there hidden dangers for the Tories in what are, or were, once reasonably safe seats.
The Rt Hon. Nicholas Soames, grandson of Winston Churchill, must have thought he had a job for life as member for Crawley. Last year, his 12,138 majority seemed safe enough with Crawley's 1.2 % unemployment rate. Today, 208% later, he may not be so confident. An extra 6,242 people have joined the dole queue in the once honeypot town. If they are all angry and all have relatives who also vote, he may soon have more time to indulge his hobby of 'country pursuits'.
INCREASES IN UNEMPLOYMENT IN CONSERVATIVE CONSTITUENCIES.
in local Travel
to Work area
Tory Marginal Majority in year
York 147 1,600
Ayr 182 730
Portsmouth S 205 7,042
Wolverhampton NE 204 5,181
Nottingham E 456 11,490
Stirling 948 371
Stockton South 774 1,370
Ipswich 874 3,436
Bolton NE 813 5,977
Cambridgeshire NE 1,428 3,977
Sources: Employment Gazette August 1990 and September 1991; Bob Waller An Almanack of British Politics.