Hundreds of Labour supporters turned out to see Jeremy Corbyn in Filton and Bradley Stoke on Saturday. In a speech in the Tory held marginal seat (constituencies expected to be closely contested), the Labour leader was accompanied by Labour’s candidate Mhairi Threlfall for the general election on December 12th.
Speaking to the Cable outside BAWA leisure centre in the downpour, the Labour leader said the weather had not daunted party activists up and down the country. “We’ve got a million leaflets delivered already – four days into the campaign,” he exclaimed. “Think of what a stack of a million leaflets looks like.”
It is this swell of people, new and experienced activists, that Labour hope will help give them an advantage in a general election which will decide the direction of the country.
The stop in Filton and Bradley Stoke (FaBS) came after visits by Corbyn to other key marginals and was aimed at invigorating campaigners who will be doing the legwork in the Bristol area. Labour hope to unseat the current Conservative MP and ardent Brexiteer Jack Lopresti, first elected in 2010.
Lopresti hung on to his seat by 4,000 votes in the 2017 election. Labour hopes a manifesto promising big investments in public services and far reaching policies including the Green New Deal will help swing it, along with capturing the 51% of constituents who voted Remain.
Lopresti has also been mired in allegations of bullying a worker in his office, and hit the headlines in a public spat with the constituency’s biggest employer – where he called Airbus’ threat to pull out of Britain in the event of a no deal Brexit ‘ridiculous’. The former estate agent and army reservist is an outspoken advocate for veterans and has mostly followed the line of the Conservatives in government, including on austerity.
A key factor in FaBS will be how people who voted Lib Dem and Green sway this time. In 2017, the Lib Dems and Greens took a combined total of just over 4,200 votes, almost exactly the number that saw Lopresti edge out the Labour candidate, despite Labour’s vote share having increased by 15% on 2015’s result. It looks likely the Brexit Party will field candidates in constituencies across the country, but its not clear yet if FaBS will be one of them and how much that will eat into the Tory Brexit vote.
Labour candidate Mhari Threlfall (pronounced ‘Vari’) originally hails from Edinburgh. She studied chemistry at Bristol University and she now works at UWE in Filton on entrepreneurship. A Bristol City councillor since 2013, she stood down as council cabinet member for transport in October 2018 to focus on her campaign for FaBS. A previous effort in 2017 to become the MP for neighbouring Kingswood was unsuccessful.
In a speech accusing her opponent of “ignoring stark warnings” from the region’s biggest employer on Brexit, Threlfall laid out Labour’s plan for Brexit, which involves negotiating a new deal then having a referendum. Threlfall said “now we know what Leave looks like, we should put it back to the people”.
Changing the topic from Brexit, she quipped “an MP is not just for Christmas”, stating “we have costed plans for the things that really matter to communities”. She added that almost ten years of Tory governments had “ripped apart the social fabric of our nation” but that Labour “have some real ideas to stitch it back together”.
Addressing the audience she said: “Our policies are there. Now the task is to get them to every single resident in Filton and Bradley Stoke.” Labour are expected to release their manifesto shortly.
Jack Lopresti’s office were approached for comment but didn’t not respond.
Labour on the front foot in Filton and Bradley Stoke
Though Labour are behind in the national polls, a major effort is underway to take on Tory MPs in FaBS and in neighbouring marginal Kingswood. Bristol North West, also a local marginal seat is currently held by Labour MP Darren Jones. Meanwhile, Labour MPs Thangam Debonnaire, Karin Smyth and Kerry McCarthy will be defending their seats in Bristol West, Bristol South and Bristol East respectively.
Charlie Owen-Caw, 28, has been canvassing for Labour in FaBS and Kingswood. She said there has been an influx of hundreds of new activists in the last few days. “It started out with a lot of WhatsApp groups for the different areas, it’s been really amazing how many people wanted to join,” she said.
“The smaller ones had about 10 people on them for months and months, now they’ve exploded, there’s 100, 200 per group.”
“Yesterday I went to the four o’clock canvassing in Kingswood and by six o’clock there were 30 more people there ready. It was really inspiring.”
Charlie, who has been a Labour member since 2016, said the level of enthusiasm was unprecedented. “It’s way bigger and way quicker than last election. People were canvassing in Kingswood on the day it was announced, on the next day and every day since,” she said.
Joking that he didn’t go cap in hand to wealthy friends when the election was called as he doesn’t have any, Corbyn praised Labour’s “people-powered campaign”, describing how Labour had been flooded with “hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people”, who had gotten in touch to join the party, donate and campaign.
Corbyn said: “All of you have got a huge amount of work on over the next months, I know the weather is usually pretty bad in November, and it gets worse in December, and it gets colder after that but – think of the spring with a Labour government.”
And with that they were off, groups of Labour activists heading purposefully into the downpour to knock on doors. This constituency will be hard fought and hard to call but whichever way it goes will have an impact on how the country moves forward with the environmental crisis, the economy, public services and, of course, Brexit.
Over the next six weeks, we’ll be covering the general election in depth – from on the ground reporting in key marginal seats in and around Bristol to ‘Beyond Brexit’ – a mini series analysing party policies on the big issues other than Britain’s exit from the EU.