The southeast of England has long been a Tory heartland. But now a wave of new arrivals—the DFLs, people who have moved "Down from London"—are making Labour a serious playerby Gaby Hinsliff / November 13, 2017 / Leave a comment
Once upon a time, Worthing was the sort of gently ageing seaside town unkindly known as “God’s waiting room.”
So when Beccy Cooper and her husband were househunting along the south coast, they didn’t initially see it as a place to raise two young sons. But two years on, the public health consultant is delighted that they took the plunge and moved in: “There’s so much going on. A lot of the families we know have come from Brighton because you can get more for your money here, and when you get that influx of people, you get changes—lots of interesting cafés, different arts and culture, independent shops and lots of entrepreneurial businesses opening up. It’s a great place to live, incredibly dynamic.”
And it’s changing in more ways than one. This summer, Cooper became Worthing’s first Labour councillor in 40 years. Her party now has serious designs on the parliamentary seat of East Worthing and Shoreham, which throughout its various iterations has been Tory since 1876. This summer, Labour’s candidate Sophie Cook doubled the vote her party had notched up just two years before. And that’s just the beginning.
Along the seafront in Hastings and Rye, Labour came within a few hundred votes of dislodging the Home Secretary Amber Rudd this June. In once-marginal Hove, the Labour MP Peter Kyle went from clinging on by his fingernails to a majority of nearly 19,000.
The winds of change are blowing along the Kent coast too, from fashionable Whitstable (part of the Canterbury seat, which has just gone Labour for the first time) to fast-gentrifying Margate, with its new Turner gallery and cultural renaissance led by Tracey Emin. It’s happening in small towns away from the coast like Reading, as well as outer London suburbs like Croydon and Chingford. If those names sound weirdly familiar for some reason, it’s just possible you’re a middle-class London parent recognising all the places your friends moved to after they had children.
Meet what Peter Chowney, who so nearly won Hastings for Labour, calls the “Down From Londoners” (DFLs): middle-class professionals in their 30s and early 40s priced out of the capital and foraging across the southeast for family houses near good schools that they might actually be able to afford. Some are commuting long distances, others taking advantage of the growing trend to…