Ground Zero of the Brexit Class War

Northern England will decide the most important election in the United Kingdom’s recent history. It was once a Labour Party heartland, but Brexit has changed everything. A visit to the battlefield.

By Jörg Schindler
December 06, 2019

“It is a kind of duty to see and smell such places now and again, especially smell them, lest you should forget that they exist.” (George Orwell, “The Road to Wigan Pier”)

On a recent Monday morning in November, a central figure in the 2019 British election is sitting huddled on a scuffed, tartan-upholstered wing chair in the northern-English city of Wigan. “No matter who you vote for, it won’t change anything,” he says.

The man, who will go by Daryl here, doesn’t want his real name published. He pulls an Adidas hat over his face. Outside, it’s raining sideways, while inside, Daryl smokes an anise-flavored e-cigarette and watches over a small room filled with bar stools and leather armchairs, its walls decorated with antlers.

Daryl opened the used furniture shop in March, calling it Bulldog Forge in honor of the legendary Bulldog Tools manufacturer that occupied this space for over 200 years. Today, its former headquarters is piled with furniture from pubs and hotels. “It won’t make me rich,” says Daryl. But compared to what he left behind, his new life is almost luxurious.

Daryl is 54 years old and lives in one of the poorest regions of the United Kingdom. He was once a nurse, once homeless, and once a victim of domestic violence. He used to vote for the Labour Party, but he’s not so sure he will this time around.

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On December 12, the UK will be voting on its future. And the north of England, where many people have stories similar to Daryl’s, has become this election’s battlefield. Indeed, pollsters believe that people like Daryl will largely decide what will likely become the most important election in the country’s recent history. As a result, even if many politicians might struggle to find places like Wigan, Warrington or Workington on a map, they are showing an interest in them — at least for a few more days.

This election, brought about by Boris Johnson, will be the third to take place in four-and-a-half years. The prime minister has said he is sick of the paralysis that still-incomplete Brexit has brought upon the country and is counting on his leadership skills to win him and his Conservatives a clear majority. If he succeeds, he will implement Brexit by the end of January, and then finally “unleash” the UK from Brussels. At least, that’s what he says.