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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Kevin Rawlinson and Sammy Gecsoyler

‘People are just so fed up’: Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire voters on a mood for change

Lee Blanch on the streets of Clifton, Bedfordshire
Lee Blanch, from Clifton in Bedfordshire, says ‘everything feels like a mess’ since Brexit. Photograph: Kevin Rawlinson/The Guardian

It was a stunning pair of victories – and among the most damaging byelection nights any government has suffered in living memory, according to the celebrated psephologist John Curtice.

The question in the newly minted Labour constituencies of Mid Bedfordshire and Tamworth the morning after was whether the opposition party can repeat the success at a general election.

“I think they can win it,” said Lee Blanch, a shopworker from Clifton, in Bedfordshire.

The habitual Labour supporter maintained his allegiance on Thursday. While he acknowledged there was a difference between winning a byelection, where turnouts are usually lower and voters sometimes choose to punish the ruling party, he said the Conservatives’ local record in government meant the opposition were now well-placed.

“People are just so fed up. It has been a tough two or three years and all we are seeing is scandal and corruption. It just seems like money is going to money and the working man is just getting stepped on.

“We expected the Conservatives to turn it around and they have not. It just feels like everything is a mess – ever since Brexit, it seems like one mess after another.”

In Bedfordshire, there was also a “get-the-Tories-out” vote. As the count was under way on Thursday night, the Liberal Democrats – whose candidate came third – said they had paved the way for a Labour victory by collecting protest votes in traditionally true blue villages.

Naomi Williams, who lives in the village of Southill, was among those sympathetic to that view.

While she was unable to vote, in the event, she said she supported the Lib Dems. Her priority was to see the Tories unseated, but she was reticent about voting Labour due to lingering doubts about the party’s record on antisemitism.

Yet, among the strength of feeling, there was also apathy. Williams was among a majority of electors who did not turn out on the day. That provoked frustration from at least one voter, who did not want to be named, but said she was “disappointed” in her fellow constituents.

Amanda Stafford-Neal
Amanda Stafford-Neal: ‘It’s maybe time for someone else to have a go.’ Photograph: Fabio de Paola/The Guardian

There was apathy in Tamworth too, where some voters said on Friday that any party would be equally bad in government.

Amanda Stafford-Neal, a sales manager, did not vote. “I don’t know what I think about Labour, but I do think it’s maybe time for someone else to have a go. But I have the view that they’re all as bad as each other.”

Amid the justified jubilation for Labour is the sense that there is still work to do. The party increased its vote on its 2019 total by fewer than 1,000 in Tamworth, and in Mid Bedfordshire it actually attracted fewer voters; albeit on vastly reduced turnouts.

Both results represented historic turnarounds. But the incredible levels of dissatisfaction with the government Labour officials have been touting on the doorsteps have produced only slender majorities. Even a small Tory resurgence could return each seat to them unless Labour sees similar benefit from likely increased turnouts at the general election.

Patrick O’Gara
Patrick O’Gara: ‘They promise this, they promise that – they’re all the same.’ Photograph: Fabio de Paola/The Guardian

Among the people they would need to convince is Patrick O’Gara, a retired civil engineer, who voted Conservative in Tamworth in 2019.

“Labour would be a better government than the Conservatives right now. They’re not working properly. They promise this, they promise that – they’re all the same,” he said. O’Gara said he had previously voted for Labour under Tony Blair.

He wanted to vote in Thursday’s byelection but was unable to because he did not have the photo ID that, under new electoral rules, voters must have to cast their ballots. “It makes me feel sad – I wanted to vote but they didn’t let me,” he said.

He said the town has changed for the worse. “Shops closing, police station closing, the council, all they want to do is knock everything down,” he said.

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