We headed to South Bristol to hear what voters are thinking about the upcoming election and find out which issues are important to them. We could have spent the whole week talking to people and hearing something new, but here is what we heard speaking to a fraction of a percent of the electorate.
Photo: Anthony O’Neil
Over the last week the Bristol Cable team have been out and about in the South Bristol constituency, asking people about how they’re voting and why. In the 2015 election, Labour MP Karin Smyth won her seat by a 14% margin, but the 2017 race is set to be much tighter. This year Smyth’s main competitor is Mark Weston, the current leader of Bristol’s Conservative councillors, the Lib Dems are represented by Bristol-born export company director, Ben Nutland, former mayoral candidate Tony Dyer hopes to win the seat for the Greens and Ian Kealey is the UKIP candidate.
The first barrier that each candidate will have to overcome is the exasperation with politics in general – the most common response to the question ‘what do you think about the upcoming election?’ was a groan. Which isn’t to say that people don’t care about who’s running the country, just that this election has come about so fast, and so confusingly, and with a degree of horror. It had hardened a lot of people, and left others conflicted about who and what they should be voting for.
“It’s driving me insane, it’s doing my nut in, just the back and forth about everything,” said Chris, a 34-year-old Bedminster resident. “You can see that it’s a complete load of bullshit, so why vote for one or the other when you know nothing’s really going to change. How do they expect [the election] to be a truthful representation of what people think when they don’t have time to prepare for it?”
Others just don’t think national politics is that helpful to them and feel like they’ve got better things to focus on locally. Shiraz, a 32 year-old local businessman, spends his energy trying to improve the Bedminster community sponsoring events an organisations and providing opportunities for local young people. Westminster isn’t that relevant to the improvements he wants.
“Issues that we could be sorting out in Bedminster would be things like creating more facilities for the youth. And we need a bit more productivity on East Street. They’re not really supportive too much to local businesses. There’s no actual incentive [to set up a business in Bedminster], whereas if you go to town or other areas in Clifton, you have got incentives that Bristol council has created for businesses there.”
“I don’t like the Tories, but I’m left with no option. Corbyn is a complete dick as far as I’m concerned.”
In the 2015 elections UKIP made a strong showing in South Bristol, coming in third-place with 8,000 of the 50,000 votes, so it was no surprise to hear a number of people talk about how they’d fallen out of love with the Labour party in recent years and turned towards the right. “I used to vote Labour, but I don’t think they’ve got a clue what’s going on,” said Stuart, a 48 year-old marble fabricator. He supported Tony Blair, but became disillusioned during Labour’s turmoil after Gordon Brown ‘stabbed him in the back’.
“I think the main priority is getting out of the EU and controlling our borders, especially after the Manchester attacks.” His worries were around reports that there were thousands of people on the terrorist watchlist and that people were flying out to fight in Syria and then wanting to return to the UK to cause trouble. “We’re getting too soft as a nation. Once we’ve got our safety and security in place then we can look at our domestic issues.”
Some thought Labour has lurched too far to the left with Jeremy Corbyn as leader. “He’s mad. He’ll give away everything. He’ll give away our country. I voted Labour my whole life but I switched after Corbyn. There are thousands of Labour supporters who’ve done that,’ said a 58 year-old turfer from Withywood.
Asked if there could be a way back to supporting Labour, he answered: “Yeah, of course. But Corbyn is too left wing, and that Diane Abbot his sidekick… I can’t do it! I can’t vote for it! I’m not stupid. I’m not going to let arseholes run the country. I don’t like the Tories, but I’m left with no option. Corbyn is a complete dick as far as I’m concerned.
“We’re getting too soft as a nation. Once we’ve got our safety and security in place then we can look at our domestic issues.”
Brexit and the economy
South Bristol is also notable for bucking the trend in Bristol and voting to leave the EU, with two thirds of people in Hartcliffe and Withywood voting leave. The issue of who would be best to handle the Brexit negotiations came up a lot with the people we talked to. Kevin a 61 year-old office worker from Knowle Park, felt that Labour didn’t have the credibility to handle the economy or the Brexit negotiations in the country’s best interest.
“You could say that being from a working family I should vote labour, but I’m not feeling it at all. People have a short memory, because the cuts are what has been inherited from the Labour government. They left the pot empty. They left that famous note from Gordon Brown. I think people that are voting for Labour are fickle.
“Europe started out fine but they’ve let nameless wonders come in and make decisions on our behalf. I think a lot of people would be happy to stay in the common market if it was a market, but it’s not. It’s just people making up rules as they go along and telling us we have to do it.”
Daniel, a 46 year-old greengrocer from Bedminster was worried about the impact that Labour’s employment policies would have. “I’m a businessman, so I’m gonna go with what’s good for my business,” he said, noting that he’s still undecided, but has voted Conservative in the past. “I really need to sit down and listen to what they’ve got to say.”
“I mean at the end of the day if Corbyn wants to give an extra four days a week bank holiday and £10 minimum wage that’s not going to be good to me as a small independent business. I’ve got ten staff, so you know it’s going to work out a lot of money. The trouble with a lot of people today, they’re just looking at what they can get out of [the election]. But as a business, we need to find that money to pay people.”
While there are plenty of people who’re left unconvinced by the plans and policies of the left-leaning parties, a strong core of Labour voters makes South Bristol a safe Labour seat. The most recent polling polling suggests only a complete disaster could turn the area blue, there are a lot of gripes about what this government has done and a lot of nightmares about what it could do. Jack, 25, who has been living in Bedminster for two years said: “There’s nothing about Jeremy Corbyn motivating me, but it’s just I don’t want the Conservatives to get in again.”
But, despite all the anger, upset and division that this election has caused there are still people around that are voting because they think the UK can be led to a better place, and that the Labour party are the ones to do it. Max, 32, who recently moved to Bedminster said he will be voting Labour because: “I just think that they stand up for greater fairness in society, greater equality and think that they will negotiate a better Brexit that is better for the country and is less isolationist, with the maximum amount of co-operation with the countries that are closest to us and our closest allies.”