Essex man and Mondeo man are stereotypical figures which were popularised in 1990s England. "Essex man" as a political figure is an example of a type of median voter and was used to help explain the electoral successes of Margaret Thatcher in the previous decade. The closely related "Mondeo man" was identified as the sort of voter the Labour Party needed to attract to win the 1997 election.
Although the Labour Party is sometimes considered the "natural choice" for the working class, there has traditionally been a group within that class who have voted Conservative, who are distinct from the "Essex man" phenomenon.
After World War II, there was considerable social change in south-east England. Working-class families were encouraged to leave the war-damaged slums in inner London and move to newly built council-owned properties in the suburbs and "new towns" in the home counties, including Basildon and Harlow in Essex.
With the decline of manufacture and skilled manual work in the 1980s, this group increasingly looked to middle-class professions for employment or became self-employed. Their children enjoyed housing, education and employment opportunities far removed from the experiences of their parents.
Essex man and Thatcherism
Margaret Thatcher's policies from 1979 to 1990 included lower taxation, control of inflation and sale of council housing stock at subsidised prices. These policies (in particular, the right to buy scheme) are thought to have caused many people who had traditionally voted Labour in Essex to switch their allegiance in the 1979, 1983 and 1987 elections. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) lists the earliest reference to the Essex man as one from 7 October 1990 in the (conservative) The Sunday Telegraph, although a reference to 26 January 1990 issue of Campaign: "Representative [David Amess] of new Essex man, working-class, father electrician, right-wing, keen hanger, noisily rambunctious, no subtlety". Owing to the similarities between the politics of Thatcher's Britain and Ronald Reagan's America, the contemporary term "Reagan Democrat" is roughly analogous to "Essex man".
The concept of the "Mondeo man" was popularised by a phrase used by Tony Blair at the Labour Party conference in 1996. He recalled a Ford Sierra owner he had canvassed in his Sedgefield constituency while campaigning for the 1992 election. The man was a self-employed electrician met by Blair while polishing his car at the weekend and told Blair that he was an ex-Labour voter who had bought his former council house, owned his own car and wondered what the Labour party had to offer him given the party's history of raising taxes and mortgage rates:
His dad voted Labour, he said. He used to vote Labour, too. But he'd bought his own house now. He'd set up his own business. He was doing very nicely. "So I've become a Tory" he said. In that moment, he crystallised for me the basis of our failure... His instincts were to get on in life. And he thought our instincts were to stop him. But that was never our history or our purpose.
This is the story that is often credited with inspiring Blair's concept of New Labour and the "Mondeo man" superseded the "Essex man" as the target of the 1997 Labour Party election campaign. (By 1993, the Sierra had been replaced by the Mondeo in the Ford model range, hence the misquote that gave birth to Mondeo Man). Blair subsequently won the 1997 General Election with a landslide victory.
- Basildon constituency
- Essex girl
- Holby City woman
- Motorway man
- Nouveau riche
- Person having ordinary skill in the art
- Placeholder name
- Reagan Democrat
- Southern Discomfort (Fabian Society pamphlets)
- Worcester woman
- The Only Way Is Essex
- Ollie Stone-Lee, Who's the new Mondeo man?, BBC News 2 January 2005
- Tanner, D., Political Change and the Labour Party 1900-1918 (1990)
- Butler, T., Social Change and the Middle Classes (1995)
- Israeli, R. and Ball, S., Mass Conservatism (2002)
- "What sort of person signs up as an advertiser?", Campaign, January 26, 1990
- Biressi, Anita; Heather Nunn (2013). Class and Contemporary British Culture. London: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 23–37. ISBN 9780230240568.
- Mondeo Man? Now Tories chase Miss Staff Room, Daily Mail, 26 April 2007
- Michael Streeter, Election '97: This time, prime target is Mondeo Man, The Independent, 10 April 1997
- George Jones, Does Mondeo Man Matter Any More?, Daily Telegraph, 28 April 2007
- Taxation: Squeezing middle Britain The Guardian, Monday 31 January 2011