Whilst it’s the zeitgeist to make for predictions for the post-COVID world (and I have made a few already), here is another.
The Key Worker identity is here to stay, and so it should. This diverse group – some of whom are unionised and most of whom are not – will become the electorate group that all political parties will seek to impress. In time, Key Workers may become a homogenous political group. Given that this group will – with good justification – have realised their worth to society (though it was never in doubt for me), they will turn out to vote in higher numbers, enhancing their electoral allurement.
And it doesn’t stop there. I have already noticed that people speak with heightened pride that their friend or relative is a Key Worker. And so they should. I foresee that people who live with Key Workers, and the wider families of Key Workers, will want to identify with the party which seeks to represent Key Workers best. The Key Worker political identity will be born.
In the similar way that families of military personnel have for generations tended to vote Tory, (despite the usual Tory cuts made to defence spending), and as trade union members are usually friendly to Labour, the Key Worker vote may ally themselves with one party for decades. But which way will this heroic, patriotic group vote?
To entice them, the Tories will, I bet, increase pay for public sector workers, whilst perhaps increasing the Living Wage for all other Key Workers. But the lack of PPE will rightly hinder the Tories from successfully wrapping themselves in the Key Worker flag. In addition, the Tory hostility to immigration will live long in the memories of Key Workers, many of whom are immigrants, such as the two nurses who saved the PM’s life. With the now-humbled Boris already ahead in traditional Labour areas, with the first (pointless) budget of March being the middle-ground land-grab, the Tories have the chance to seize this new political territory. And as Boris isn’t a right-wing ideologue, he will do what it takes to create his legacy. Although Boris will wield his COVID survival story in due course, the Tories will struggle to seduce the Key Worker heroes.
As for Labour’s chances, now under the stewardship of someone who cannot be as incompetent as the last leader, Labour will believe that they are the natural home of the Key Workers. However, Corbyn and his coterie have damaged the Labour brand to such an extent that those who deserted the party will think twice about returning. Labour will do well with the non-doctor NHS staff and teachers. The doctors and delivery drivers will be harder to convince. Labour are prime placed to hoover-up these new votes.
Had the Lib Dems be in a stronger position, then they could also dominate the Key Worker demographic. With the news dominated by COVID, a weak third party will not for some time get a media hearing. It shouldn’t stop the Lib Dems from trying, though. Whichever party cultivates this land first may win.
But is there a fourth party on the horizon? Probably not. In our rotten first-past-the-post system, new parties will struggle to breakthrough. UKIP, for all its European success, never had any Westminster success. The National Health Action Party, Women’s Equality Party (could a party have a worse name?), The Independent Group/Change UK, the Referendum Party and – who can forget The Monster Raving Looney Party, which wanted to ban winter – have all failed. But with change in the air, with many people taking the view that the Brexit debacle exposed the silliness of our unwritten constitution, perhaps constitutional change will gravitate to the top of the agenda. As Lenin said: “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” Nothing would surprise me anymore.