Mon. Aug 15th, 2022

They are the cities that helped make the Northern Labor Red Wall Conservatives blue in the last election.

In Leigh, near Wigan and Heywood, near Rochdale, voters made it almost unthinkable.

Until recently, the former mining town of Leigh was one of the longest-running Labor seats. But then, in December 2019, James Grundy won the seat that was once held by former Health Minister and current Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham.

Similarly, Heywood – next to the neighboring town of Middleton – was always a Labor stronghold until Chris Clarkson won it for Boris Johnson’s Tories.

READ MORE:Rochdale councilors will no longer get a cell phone as part of the job

Political scientists widely perceived the shock of these working-class societies turning blue as a kick in the pants for pro-European Labor by voters who wanted to stop shaking up Brexit and more control over immigration.

But there was more to it than that. So-called left-behind communities, victims of not just a north-south divide, but also of a wealth gap in Greater Manchester and the North West itself, quickly became part of Prime Minister Johnson’s ‘leveling’ agenda.

So almost 24 months in the making, in the midst of a pandemic that has seen conservatives spend at unprecedented levels to support the economy, have cities like Leigh and Heywood started to feel the love?

Heywood center

Sir. Johnson’s current offer, made at the Conservative Party’s conference on Wednesday, is to make Britain a high-wage economy with skills that are less dependent on EU freedom of movement (ie immigration) to fill trucking jobs, those in the care sector and in the food processing chain.

But was anyone talking about the half-empty shelves in supermarkets, rising prices, queues at gas stations and an NHS with critical shortages of nurses and other doctors?

We hit the streets of both Heywood and Leigh to find out what people think now.

From her bench in Heywood center, Tricia Johnson, 77, said: “I do not think Boris Johnson is doing anything good. I do not see any difference now until he was elected.

Tricia Johnson

“There are lots of people without jobs and without hope. He keeps saying he wants to do this and that, but nothing happens.”

Tricia said she voted for Brexit in the referendum but could not get herself to vote Conservative in the last general election.

“My father has always voted Labor, and I have always voted Labor,” she added. “I’m outraged that some people voted for Tory. I could not believe they bowed so low that they voted for a Conservative MP and for someone like Boris Johnson.

“I’m going to my local supermarket now and the shelves are empty and it’s up to the government.”

Although Heywood-based hospitality officer Carl Horrocks voted for Labor, he admitted a gruesome respect for the prime minister’s oratorial skills.

“I have never and would never vote for him,” said Carl, 50. “I could never vote for that kind of people, but you have to admit he is a brilliant speaker.

“If you examine what he says, it does not matter. The problem is that Kier Starmer does not seem to offer a viable alternative.

“But I have to admit it was very surprising when Heywood and Middleton became conservative.”

Disabled Mark Harrison, 57, who spent five years as a homeless man before finally being resettled, described the prime minister as ‘a buffalo’.

“I would not send him to the corner store,” he said. “I do not believe anything he says and I will always vote for Labor.

“Nothing in Heywood has changed so far, and I do not expect anything he says he does to make any difference.”

His friend Donna Beaumont, 47, did not vote for Labor or the Conservatives, but voted for another party that was pro-Brexit.

She said: “I’m not externally racist, but I’m a Brexit supporter. But I do not understand why supermarkets lack things and people can not get petrol. It’s bad.”

Carolyn Wynn, 38, runs The Lounge hair, nails and makeup salon in Heywood city center, and cannot see how Mr Johnson’s ambition for everyone to earn higher wages stacks up.

Carolyn Wynn

“He wants people to make money,” she said. “There’s no way I can pay the girls who work here the kind of money he’s talking about.

“From my point of view, I’m against a lot of competition. We need more walks in the city, but what has not helped is that all the banks have disappeared and all there is is charity shops and takeaways.

“That said, Heywood is a wonderful community, people are amazing. But if you look down the road at cities like Bury and even Rochdale, there is a lot to do to help us compete successfully with them.”

Three of her employees are Lillie Kirk, 17, Gemma Loup, 29, and Emily Thompson, 16.

From left Lillie Kirk, Gemma Loup and Emily Thompson

Carolyn added: “I want to give Boris Johnson some credit. I have been able to use the apprenticeship scheme to get these girls on, which they and I are very happy about.”

Meanwhile, the family connection to Labor runs deep in Leigh.

But with just a leisurely stroll around the city center, there is enough evidence to see that it needs a boost.

Donna Morrison, 54, works in the Leigh AgeUK store. She said: “I’m from a Labor family. My father was a miner.

Donna Morrison

“But I could see that nothing changed and it looked like Boris Johnson would do something different. Whether you like him or not, he’s definitely a character.

“You’re trying to go with the politicians who say it right, but I do not yet know if I would vote for Tory again.”

Irene Richards, 62, is sitting on a bench in Leigh’s Bradshawgate. She said: “I do not believe all this talk of leveling. I just do not see how it is going to happen. I would much rather vote Labor in any case.

Irene Richards

Tony Mulcrow, 60, said he voted for the Conservatives because he wanted Brexit to happen.

“I have voted for Labor before, but I voted for Brexit in the referendum and I wanted it to be carried out and that is why I voted for Boris.”

And he rejected any suggestion that leaving the EU could have caused shortages in supermarkets and problems with petrol pumps.

He said: “The petrol problem was caused by paper talk (the media). They caused the panic. There was not really a problem.”

Market messenger Philip Farnworth, 55, blamed many of Leigh’s problems on people who were unwilling to work and ‘pay into the system’.

Philip Farnworth

“I’ve been working in the city center for 27 years now,” he said. “When I first came here, it was difficult, but it got better, but now it is going down again.

“The problem is that we are throwing money at people who have never paid into the economy and who are never likely to. The NHS needs to treat people who have never contributed. They are taking Mick.

“I support Boris Johnson and the government in cutting Universal Credit. People should be willing to go out and find work.”

Lisa Smith, 49, is a businesswoman and runs Party Central on Bradshawgate in Leigh.

Lisa Smith

“I will always vote Labor,” she said. “The Conservatives are just liars, but the media seems to support them. I do not think Labor is getting a fair crack from the papers.

“I have lived here for four years and it is clear to me that we need a boost. Whether the government can do that with their ‘smoothing’ agenda I do not know. But it makes me think ‘let me do not laugh’ ‘.


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