Sunday, June 26, 2022

Wakefield by-election: ‘We’ve been left behind – people are demoralized’

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Tory voters spoke of being appalled at Mr Johnson’s scandal-ridden premiership. Labor supporters complained about Sir Keir’s ineffective leadership

What does this group – a mix of Tory and Labor voters, pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit, ex-miners and businessmen – have to say about Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

“You want to talk to people about politics?” asked the proprietor at the Old Print Works pub in Wakefield, gesturing around the corner of the bar where a group of men were sitting enjoying a Thursday night beer.

“He’s not fit for the post,” volunteered one. “I was raised Labor because my father was a miner, but this time I voted for Boris,” said another. “I think Boris has had the lousiest time of any parliament and he’s done as well as a prime minister could.”

But at least one drinker disagreed: “He threw a party when people were dying and they couldn’t visit their relatives.”

“We all played by the rules and he didn’t because he doesn’t have a moral compass…” his neighbor began, before being interrupted by another quip: “It’s hypocritical to blame someone for something we do.” all have done.”

So splits about Mr. Johnson. But what about Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer? “I’ve been a miner and a Labor man all my life but I couldn’t vote for Corbyn so I went to the Tories,” said one drinker. “And Keir Starmer isn’t strong enough for me.” Then, through a loud groan, he declared, “For me, I liked Tony Blair.”

Wakefield voters will go to the polls in less than a week to choose who will be their third MP in as many years. It was a Labor stronghold until the post-Brexit Tory landslide in 2019. Now voters are being urged to make their choice again after MP Imran Ahmad Khan resigned following a child sex abuse conviction.

Labor candidate Simon Lightwood is favorite to defeat Tory councilor Nadeem Ahmed.
But while residents of the cathedral city of West Yorkshire are not shy about voicing their political views, their most popular answer when asked which of the major parties they support is “none of the above”. Tory voters spoke of being appalled at Mr Johnson’s scandal-ridden premiership. Labor supporters complained about Sir Keir’s ineffective leadership.

At Wah Wah Records, a downtown record store, employee Scott Wainwright and regular Geoff Hook explain why they recently quit the Labor Party.

“Dissatisfaction with Keir Starmer’s leadership since Jeremy [Corbyn] was a leader,” said Mr. Hook, giving his reasons. “General ineffective leadership as I see it… total lack of direction from the Labor Party.”

Both say they will still be reluctant to vote for Labor in the by-election – but Mr Wainwright said he was considering not voting at all. “People here feel left behind,” he said, adding that not much has changed in the area since the Conservatives won in 2019, despite promises to give priority to such northern seats.

He said the odd federal grant or “little bit of money back and forth” is like “a band-aid in cancer … it’s not a long-term fix,” adding, “You’re going to see it get worse with this cost-of-living crisis.” I think people are demoralized and don’t really want to vote and there isn’t much for them to vote for.

“And a lot of people I know won’t vote at all because they think it won’t do them any good.”

Labor is clearly ahead in the polls – and pretty much everyone seemed to think it was inevitable that the party would win back the seat.

However, Labor campaign insiders have expressed concern that a very low turnout could undermine a significant factor in its success.

And there are still locals who say they feel “the legacy of Brexit” – which has been a big issue in the Leave-support constituency – could still give the Conservatives “a bit of a tailwind” in the by-election .

Back at the pub, regular Stephen Gidman embodied the volatile nature of the political landscape in areas like Wakefield.

“We think the current Prime Minister is ridiculously crooked. I stood in front of my best friend’s father’s funeral and cried my eyes out and wasn’t allowed in – on the same day the people in Parliament screwed it up,” he said. “But I will not vote for Labor because I don’t think the candidate is a real local Labor man.

“I feel like most people in Wakefield. We feel like everyone is scolding us.”

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