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Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
Nick Jackson

The Greater Manchester streets where life is 'hand to mouth' - but few believe voting will change a thing

It's not exactly like looking for a needle in a haystack, but finding someone who actually voted in the May 5 local elections in one Salford ward is not a million miles away. In Little Hulton, only 18.1 percent of people eligible to vote bothered to put their cross next to their favoured candidate.

To be clear, that's less than one-fifth of the electorate. So it begs the question why? On a visit to Little Hulton District Centre, just off the A6 on the road north out of Salford, is informative, members of the community describe their efforts to fight apathy.

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Like Geoff Millard, 73, who can often be seen sweeping up at St Paul Pee Parish Community Hall. "Trying to get people in Little Hulton to do anything is really difficult," he said.

"I don't want to be disparaging but we run a drama group here which stages productions. But the people who come and watch and participate are not from Little Hulton. It's like they're just not interested."

Geoff also lamented the lack of interest in the Spirit of Little Hulton Festival, an event designed to unite the local community and enhance people's health and wellbeing. "We ran things in [nearby] Peel Park, but once again the numbers that attended were relatively low," he continued.

"In the community hall we put on cinema nights where people could come and watch films on the big screen for very little money, but once again, after good start, the numbers dwindled to almost nothing."

But Geoff loves the area. "I will never give up," he said. "I am an optimist and I believe in the community. My heart is in Little Hulton."

His brother Harvey, 71, said: "It's like there's a malaise of apathy. It's not surprising, I suppose, that people don't vote because there's this assumption that at every local election there always be Labour councillors elected. It's like apathy is the best friend Labour has."

At Little Hulton District Centre, where there are more retail outlets with roll shutters closed than there are units open, there are people milling about and youths on bikes after school.

No-one will be named, but an oft-repeated claim is that Labour have got Little Hulton "boxed off" so there is little point in voting.

One woman said: "It's Labour through and through here, which is what you'd expect, so there's no point in voting." But what about a general disillusionment with politics and politicians post-Partygate?

"I'm not bothered about what Boris Johnson did," she said. "Anyone can make a mistake, but I can understand why those people who couldn't see their relatives before they died during the lockdowns are angry.

"I have voted in the past - Labour - which is what you'd expect here, but I didn't bother this time, because I couldn't see the point."

Three young men in their early 20s all live in social housing. None of them voted.

Once again, they wouldn't be named. One said: "I have no faith in politicians. They're all selfish. The government and the council don't care about us.

"I'm living a council house, but if need a repair it takes three months for them to get round to it. I couldn't see any point in voting."

Another said: "I don't have any political opinions because I don't understand it, so that's why I didn't vote." His pal said: "I didn't vote because I just don't care."

Chip shop owner Syed Hussain, 47, has been running his business for 16 years. "They just don't care," he said. "People only care about spending their money on drink and drugs. Then they run out of money. They are living hand-to-mouth. I think voting is the last thing on their mind."

One of his staff is Ryan Walsh, 31, who has four children to care for.
"It's difficult for people living here and it's easy to see why people might lose faith in the political system," he said.

Stephania Tranca, 42, also works in the chippy. "People should vote, but they don't and it's a shame," she said.

One woman would only identify herself as "Annoyed from Brackley", aged 56. For the first time, she was visiting a Little Hulton furniture shop, and spoke of local people in less than flattering terms.

Flanked by her mum, who is in her 80s, she said: "I always vote, but I don't live in Little Hulton. It's a duty because people threw themselves under horses to get the vote.

"This is my first visit to Little Hulton, but looking around here it's clear to me, they are an underclass, to the point where they aren't even Labour, but they probably voted for Brexit.

"They no longer have any aspiration. They appear to be on benefits. It's my belief that the welfare state should be a safety net, not a lifestyle choice.

"Some people can't make the effort to drag themselves out of bed and get a job, so it's no surprise they can't be bothered to vote.

"It's crazy. We have a footballer [ Marcus Rashford ] who is a role model, raising money to feed children in school and a prime minister who is the opposite."

Simon Paul, 55, was brought up in Little Hulton. He said: "Apathy is rife in Little Hulton. People just don't care. I've never been political either and I guess it's the last thing on their mind."

However, Anthony Jones, 43, disagreed with the view that people in Little Hulton "don't care".

"People here are the salt of the earth," he said. "When their mates are in any kind of difficulty they pitch in and help each other out. They might not be particularly interested in local politics, but they are around when it really matters."

Councillor Teresa Pepper is the newly elected Labour member for Little Hulton. She said: "I have reflected [on the question of voter apathy] and I am sure there are many reasons why people have chosen not to engage in the political process.

"The overriding reason I hear on the doorstep is that people don’t believe that politics can do anything for them. There is a lack of trust generally in politicians."

Recent events in Parliament and in particular the behaviour of the most senior members of our government, including the Prime Minister, have further damaged people’s confidence in the political process.

"The budgetary situation faced by councils following over a decade of austerity, and the loss of funds and powers from local councils has caused people to become even more demoralised.

"We as politicians need to work hard to recover that trust by delivering the things that people need in their local areas. It is my intention to work hard with and for the people I represent to do just that."

Robin Garrido is the leader of the opposition Conservative group on Salford council. His candidate, Dorothy Chapman, polled 395 votes, behind the new Coun Pepper who got 1,066.

Coun Garrido said he thinks he knows what the source of the apathy might be. He said: "There's this assumption [among the electorate] that because a particular area has always elected a candidate of a political party, they've always got in.

"It's difficult for us because everyone has a vote. So, if all those who didn't want them to get in voted, they wouldn't get in.

"But it's broader than that. It goes back to how people are treated by the council.

"People's perception is that 'the council doesn't do anything for us'. "The issues that we [councillors] think are big, are not big to them." Coun Garrido said it was because of these things that his colleagues "want to bring pride back into the city.

"Because they don't see it happening, they think, why should we bother to vote? We see it as our role to turn it around."

Salford City Mayor Paul Dennett said: "Low turnout in local elections is not simply confined to Salford - but Little Hulton's 18 percent rate is clearly a significantly low figure.

"There are many reasons I believe residents don't show for local elections... sometimes, residents don't see local politics as significant. Other times, the systems can be confusing and alienating.

"Fundamentally, however, anyone who isn't voting in their local election is clearly - on some level - feeling disconnected from local politics and the Town Hall.

"I think there is no coincidence that low turnout in elections often corresponds with areas with high levels of deprivation and low incomes.

"When people are struggling to choose between heating and eating, with the daily worries that come with managing tight budgets, having time to consider local elections can sometimes feel like a luxury they can't afford.

"I believe this council can and does deliver meaningfully for residents across the city - but during times of austerity, with over a decade of funding cuts from the government - it doesn't get any easier to make the kinds of visible changes to areas like Little Hulton which would really prove to residents that we're there."

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