“I feel like I can’t support the present… it’s not so much the current government as it is the current prime minister that I think is unsuitable.”
It’s easy to see why. After three years of frustration following the 2016 Brexit referendum, the traditional Labor seat turned to the Conservatives in the 2019 election. Then, earlier this year, MP Imran Ahmad Khan was forced to resign after being convicted of child molestation.
Spend two days in Wakefield trying to talk to locals about the upcoming by-election, and you’ll go home with a resounding message in your head: voters are fed up with politicians.
Recent polls – contested by both Labor and Tory campaigners – have left Labor candidate Simon Lightwood in a safe bet against Tory Nadeem Ahmed.
Former business owner James “Jim” Walker will not vote. The 76-year-old describes himself as “a Wakefield guy” who has lived in the area all his life. He’s also a lifelong Conservative – but said he couldn’t support Boris Johnson because he had “lack of integrity”.
Speaking outside the Old Printworks pub in the heart of the city, he explained that he had always voted for Tory, apart from a brief stint in support of Tony Blair. “This time I feel like it’s a no — none of that,” he said.
“I’m not voting for Labor because I don’t think they are capable because they haven’t been in power so they don’t have the experience.
“And I feel like I can’t support the present… it’s less the current government and more the current prime minister that I think is unsuitable. I felt like this was the newest thing about the parties. He seems very fickle. I don’t think he has a moral compass pointing him in the right direction.”
Ardent Labor supporter John Dunne agrees Mr Johnson is unfit for office. The retired lecturer said it was “terrible” when his city elected a Tory MP for the first time in almost a century. But, he added, “inevitable to some extent because of the undercurrents of the referendum which has hit communities – particularly in the north of England – as badly as the miners’ strike”.
Those wounds are just beginning to heal, he said, and he is confident Sir Keir Starmer is the man who can help – although he admits he would like “more charisma” from the Labor leader.
“But Starmer is a serious political figure who wants to do more for this country than for himself. And that excites me.”
The looming low turnout is not due to a lack of politics in Wakefield. Market traders are quick to praise government support during the Covid-19 pandemic but speak of concerns about soaring fuel prices.
Retired miners will not hold back their contempt for the Conservative PM’s ‘sleazy liar’. The problem is that despite promises to “step up” and focus on winning voters in the north of England, people still say they are being left behind and ignored.
And many others are just too busy focusing on the pressing issues.
Hotel manager Jessica Sinclair, 27, has been busy paying at least £20 a day in taxi fares to get work because of the bus strike – on top of her soaring electricity bills. She said she doesn’t have the ability to even think about the by-election.
“My gas and electrics are really giving me a hard time at the moment. Before they raised the prices I had a £300 credit and now I owe £400. For me it’s a real struggle because I don’t have enough to pay this off so I have to stay with this company or win the lottery.”
Government plans to offer £400 to households in October will not be enough to bail out Ms Sinclair as her debt will have doubled, she said.
“By then I’ll need another £400,” she said.