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When the Conservatives won a landslide majority in December last year, Justina Smyth, 35, was “more than happy”. Standing in the drizzle outside the Polish shop Baltic on Heywood high street in Greater Manchester on Friday, she recalled how she “had been surprised what help they seemed to be offering single parents” after the party promised to encourage flexible working.
But 10 months on, Smyth, originally from Poland, said she “definitely would not vote for them again” and had decided to vote Labour in the next election.
Before the national lockdown began in March, Smyth was working in temporary office jobs, and when her nine-year-old daughter was sent home from school she was told she would have to continue going into work despite struggling to find childcare.
“They don’t seem to understand the difficulties people like myself have,” she said, adding that she had also been dismayed that the party had rejected a motion to continue offering free school meals during holidays until Easter 2021. “We got the vouchers in the summer, it was a real help.”
The “red wall” constituency of Heywood and Middleton was one of dozens of formerly safe Labour seats across the Midlands and the north to turn blue in the last election – returning a majority of just 663 for the Conservative MP Chris Clarkson. But with the standoff between northern leaders and the government over the financial support available for areas under coronavirus restrictions, and the row over extending the availability of free school meals, some have begun to wonder how long the party’s newfound support will last.
On Wednesday, Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, apologised to Clarkson after calling him “scum” during a debate in parliament. But speaking on the day that tier 3 restrictions came into force across Greater Manchester, it was not the use of unparliamentary language that had made his constituents angry, but their MP’s decision to vote against extending free school meals.
“I think he’s disgraceful,” said Tony Duffy, 63, the owner of Low Cost Appliances, who also freelances for ITV’s Coronation Street props department. “I don’t think he has any feeling for the people in Heywood, or realises how hard times are.”
A lifelong Labour voter until last year, Duffy said in 2019 he voted for the local Brexit party candidate, Colin Lambert, because he was a friend, and also because he could not vote for a “bad Labour leader”.
Business at his store, which has recently relocated from Heywood’s indoor market, is going well because he sells refurbished and cheaper white goods “and people are thinking about what they’re spending now”. But though times were good for Duffy under the current government, he believed others had suffered due to the handling of the pandemic. To him, Clarkson was “an outsider” who had parachuted into “the right place at the right time”, who would likely be voted out in the next election.
At Locks barbers, where stylists were sitting on sofas waiting for customers, apprentice Jessica Barrett, 26, said she could not understand the government’s refusal to extend the provision of free school meals “when people are living in poverty”. She said constituents, including her brother, had voted Conservative instead of Labour because they “felt left behind” but that “sometimes it’s better the devil you know”.
Co-owner Louise Fletcher, 51, said she felt frustrated that businesses not forced to close in tier 3 areas, such as hairdressers and barbers, were not being supported enough financially despite a huge reduction in footfall as a result of there being “no social life”. “They’re not really doing anything for us. No one’s out, but they’ve not closed us down,” she said.
Some in the area, where Clarkson won 43.1% of votes only 10 months ago, remained firm in their support for the government. At a pet food stall in Heywood’s indoor market, the owner, who declined to give his name but said he had been a lifelong Labour voter who voted for the Brexit party in 2019, was “shocked” at Rayner’s use of language. “There’s certain things you shouldn’t be doing when you’re a member of parliament,” he said.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘I wouldn’t vote Tory again’: frustration in newly blue Heywood | World news