Will 'Workington Man' punish the Tories at the polls? Swing-voting Cumbrian town's MP isn't worried

A man walks at sunset at Workington, in Cumbria.
Political pollsters coined the phrase 'Workington Man' to describe a hypothetical Cumbrian swing voter. Credit: PA Images

In swing voter heartlands, Tory MPs will be bracing to see whether voters will punish them at the polls after Boris Johnson's party was plunged into political turmoil.

Some Cumbrian MPs have welcomed Boris Johnson's resignation.

But Michael Gove has angered Workington's MP- as he acted to delay a crucial West Cumbria mining decision in the key swing seat shortly before the PM sacked him from his senior cabinet role.

Mr Johnson stepped down as the leader of the UK earlier on Thursday (7 July), but vowed to remain in place until a replacement is found.

It is thought a new leader will be elected in the autumn around the time of the Conservative Party conference.

In his speech the PM said he wanted Britons to "know how sad [he is] to be giving up the best job in the world" but that the process for finding a replacement should start immediately.

A timetable for this process is expected to be announced next week.

But many northern MPs are divided over where the fracas leaves the party.

Who is the 'Workington Man?'Workington Man is a phrase coined by political pollsters during the 2019 General Election to describe a typical swing voter.

It describes a hypothetical, Brexit-backing, but former Labour-voting, middle-aged man in the Cumbrian town.

Pollsters predicted this demographic would be likely to switch allegiance to the Tories for the first time in decades.

Workington MP Mark Jenkinson went on to make history when he was voted into the former Labour safe seat - as one of Mr Johnson's 2019 crop of 'Red Wall' breakers.

He has been a loyal supporter of the PM throughout his leadership.

The PM was supposed to visit the town on Thursday- but instead was in Westminster stepping down from his own job amid escalating turmoil as dozens of MPs resigned from their positions in Government.

West Cumbrian mining decision on ice

After the PM stepped down, Mr Jenkinson said he was "relieved" recent events were coming to an end but was proud to "back him to be the Leader of our (the Conservative) party."

Mr Jenkinson called the Prime Minister a friend to Workington, and said he remained excited to see the benefits of Mr Johnson's leadership on the town - citing the Town Deal as an example.

He finished: "Boris can hold his head high and say confidently that he’s made that positive difference to the lives of tens of millions of people - both here and across the world."

But the Workington MP also referenced the delay to the West Cumbria Mine decision sparked by the political turmoil.

Boris Johnson resigned as prime minister in July 2022. Credit: PA Images

He blamed Mr Gove, saying: "Today we should also have been celebrating a positive decision on West Cumbria Mine.

"Unfortunately one of Mr Gove’s last acts was to delay that decision, and I spent much of yesterday trying to fix that issue - including speaking with the Prime Minister."

What is the West Cumbria Mine plan- and why is it controversial?

The West Cumbria Mine is a colliery proposed near Whitehaven, which has proven controversial. If approved, it would become the first deep coal mine in the UK for more than 30 years.

It is expected that 3.1 million tonnes of coal per year could be produced at the site.

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A decision on whether the mine would get the go ahead was expected today, following a recommendation made to Mr Gove after a public inquiry last autumn.

Yesterday, it was announced the decision was being postponed.

How have Cumbrian MPs reacted to Boris Johnson's resignation?Trudy Harrison, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Department for Transport, and MP for Copeland, voted in support of Mr Johnson at last month's vote of no-confidence.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Copeland MP was yet to comment on the turmoil that has engulfed the Government over recent days and led to the Prime Minister's resignation.

Other MPs in the region have welcomed the news Boris Johnson is stepping down.

Dr Neil Hudson MP for Penrith and The Border said it was the "right and proper thing to do for our country."

He said: "With the cost of living crisis, the war in Ukraine and a whole host of other pressing issues, the UK needs stable governance.

"We need a new leader in place as soon as possible to keep the engine of government turning - a leader who can restore honesty and integrity into politics and move the nation forward as one."

  • Carlisle MP John Stevenson comments on the PM's resignation.

John Stevenson, who represents Carlisle, said that the PM resigning was inevitable following the events of the last few days.

He added: "I think the pressure just got too much and once the Chancellor and the Health Secretary of State resigned I think it was going to be the end, it was just a matter of when."

Mr Stevenson has also been quick to say who he would like to see succeed Mr Johnson.

He told ITV Border's political correspondent that Tom Tugendhat would be the man to "unite the party and country."

Liberal Democrat Tim Farron is the only non-Tory MP in Cumbria.

The MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale has been critical of the PM in recent months and says Mr Johnson should not remain in post over the next few months as a caretaker leader.

He added that the Prime Minister was leaving in disgrace and that the Conservatives should not allow him to remain in post until the autumn.

He said: "Mr Johnson’s departure is down to serial dishonesty and protecting a minister without care for his alleged victims.

"For the Conservatives to tolerate him remaining as PM until Autumn would be an outrage, confirming that this is about saving their skins not doing the right thing."