How Nuneaton swung behind the Tories

Labour has a problem and her name is Jody Hall.

The Nuneaton resident, who works in admin, is the daughter of a former coal miner and is also married to a one-time miner. Last Thursday she voted for the Conservatives.

Waiting for her lunch at the George Eliot Hotel in Nuneaton, she explains why: "I've voted Labour in the past, I'm from a family that voted Labour before, but I was worried that they left this country with no money."

In the past, families like the Halls could be relied on to vote Labour, election after election.

But her father, the former miner, also voted Tory: "He was worried about how the economy would be under Labour."

When the election results came through on Thursday night Robert Copeland, a Labour councillor, was drinking a pint of bitter at the Saunders Hall working men's club.

"It was an enormous shock," he says. "I'm still struggling to think it through. We just had no idea."

For Basildon in 1992 and Worcester in 1997 read Nuneaton in 2015.

The Warwickshire town was home to George Eliot, author of Middlemarch; it is now a political symbol for the mood of Middle England.

Even before the election, pollsters had identified a new swing voter, "Cautious Cath", a 35-year-old mother who lived in a semi-detached house, drove a Ford Fiesta and shopped at Aldi. She lived in Nuneaton.

The seat was solidly Labour from 1935 to 2010 - apart from the Thatcher heyday of 1983 to 1992.

The Labour leadership had their first sign of national disaster when the BBC's exit poll was announced at 10pm.

But it was when the Nuneaton result was announced at 1.53am that they realised the enormity of their defeat.

Vicky Fowler, their 24-year-old candidate, had hoped to overturn a Tory majority of 2,069. Ed Miliband, the former Labour leader, visited the town three times this year, including a trip two days before polling day.

Instead the incumbent MP, Marcus Jones, increased it to 4,882.


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> Ms Fowler refused to speak to the Financial Times about her defeat. But speaking to Mr Jones, several councillors and residents there was a clear pattern to why support swung away from Labour.

Local people overwhelmingly believed that the economy was in safer hands under the Conservatives.

Nuneaton does not ooze wealth: the main shopping area includes several betting shops, moneylenders and 22 charity shops.

But people feel prosperous enough, largely. Since 2010 unemployment has fallen 57 per cent - from 2,760 to 1,150, according to Mr Jones. It is now at a relatively low 2.5 per cent. There is also a high level of home ownership in the constituency.

Emma Wood, who works in finance in a school, says she voted Tory because "better the devil you know than the one you don't". The Tory commitment to reducing the deficit was her main reason for backing the party, she says.

Chris Baul, a 39-year-old entrepreneur, says Labour calls itself the party of working people. "They just aren't," he says. "They weren't for people who want to get on, the self-employed, you know?"

The Tory claim that Mr Miliband would have to work alongside the Scottish National party - to the detriment of the Union - also hit home.

Derreck Middlicott, a retired "grafter", takes shelter from the rain under a shop awning in the main shopping parade. "I don't like Nicola Sturgeon, and I think Ed Miliband would have done a deal with her, even though he said he wouldn't," he says.

Mr Baul simply says: "We don't want to end up in bed with Scotland. If they want to go their own way we should just let them."

< > John Beaumont, a Labour councillor, says he was "gobsmacked" by the result when it came in last week.

In hindsight, he says, many voters were angry about the idea of a Labour mansion tax on southern England paying for extra nurses for Scotland. "People thought that wasn't fair."

Many Scottish former miners settled locally many decades ago to work in collieries such as Daw Mill, which closed two years ago. Even among them, however, there was a hostility towards the SNP working with Labour.

Chris Smedley runs the butchers' shop in the town centre. "Labour would have gone into coalition with the SNP, even though they said they wouldn't, a lot of people thought he would have to do that, and English people don't like the idea of Scots who want independence running the show," he says from behind the meat counter.

"That was the biggest thing that hurt the Labour party apart from Ed Miliband being leader."

Criticism of Mr Miliband is widespread on the streets of Nuneaton. "Miliband, certainly, on the doorsteps people were saying that he was a bit of an issue, they said, 'we're not sure about your leadership'," says Mr Copeland, the councillor.

"I wouldn't trust a bloke who shafted his brother," says Robert Walton, a pensioner. His wife Elizabeth nods in agreement. "His head was too big for his body," she says.

And, crucially, the rise of the UK Independence party took more support from Labour enclaves around Nuneaton than from the Tories.

"You can see that it was the Ukip vote that split the Labour vote, turning the situation in some wards into a three-way fight," says Mr Jones.

The same trend could be seen in the neighbouring seats of Rugby and North Warwickshire, both of which had been key Labour targets. White working-class voters peeled off to Nigel Farage's anti-immigration, anti-EU party.

Meanwhile former Liberal Democrat voters, instead of flocking to Labour, scattered to the three winds.

<Voters were sceptical about the impact of targeted leaflets, emails and phone calls by all the parties - and resented door-knocking.

"I stuck all my leaflets in the recycling bin, didn't read any, it was just too much," says Bev Tedds, who is unemployed.

Ms Wood says she received "30 or 40" leaflets. "I read some of them, but ultimately it's about your gut feeling, how you vote, I don't think the literature makes any difference."

Mr Middlicott says he received more Labour leaflets than Tory ones: "I just binned them all."

Mr Jones is convinced that the pollsters were not wrong but instead many voters changed their minds when they entered the polling booths.

In the words of Eliot's Middlemarch: "With regard to critical occasions, it often happens that all moments seem comfortably remote until the last."

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