The world feels a better and calmer place in Torquay. People showed not the slightest desire to allow a minor squabble in London about the manifesto to deflect them from voting Conservative.
These interviews were conducted before the massacre in Manchester brought grimmer thoughts crowding in. The weather yesterday afternoon was perfect, a balmy and caressing sea breeze prevented the sun from becoming too hot, at Corbyn’s Sands [sic] a few intrepid bathers were taking to the waters, and in the Abbey Park Gardens, which command a wonderful view of the bay, Victoria Bowling Club was playing local rivals Babbacombe.
“Nice one, Freddy,” someone cried. Here two 16-strong teams competed without a cross word being spoken. Our fevered electioneers could learn something about manners from the bowls players of Torquay. Just to sit and watch them, after having one’s patience tried by points failure on the Great Western Railway, is to feel tranquillity and a sense of proportion start to return.
Dave Robinson, 76, a member of Victoria BC whose brother was turning out for Babbacombe, said of the election: “I can tell you what will happen. The Tories will get in. It’s all about Brexit. I voted to come out. They dictate to us far too much.”
Torbay – a parliamentary constituency which includes Torquay and Paignton – was captured from the Conservatives by the Lib Dem Adrian Sanders in 1997, and held by him until 2015, when Kevin Foster regained the seat for the Conservatives by a margin of 3,286 votes.
It is tenth on the list of Lib Dem target seats, and a test of whether they can start to regain their West Country strength. These conversations offer little sign that they can.
Robinson, who is Torquay “born and bred” and used to be in charge of 27 staff in the print, stationery and courier service at the town hall, voted Lib Dem in 2015 because he “liked Adrian Sanders – he did a lot for the town and he was always there and about, you could always see him”.
But Sanders is not standing again, and this time Robinson, who voted Leave, will vote Conservative, and expects that because of Brexit, many others will too: “I meet up with a load of Rugby players on Wednesdays in the Green Ginger, anything from 12 to 20 of us, and they all voted to come out.”
Two years ago, UKIP got 6,540 votes in Torbay, but yesterday, I came across no one who intends to vote for them.
On Corbyn’s Head, a rocky outcrop which juts into the sea opposite the Grand Hotel and next to Corbyn’s Sands, a memorial erected in 2005 commemorates the death in 1944 of six members of the Home Guard when a 50lb shell exploded in the breech of their antiquated gun. I approached a bearded man in a faded tee-shirt whom I somehow expected to be a Corbyn supporter.
He is 38 years old, is called Phillip Kelleher, provides health care for people in their own homes, currently by night, and is a warning against stereotyping people according to whether or not they have beards. For he said: “I’ve normally voted Labour. I won’t be this time. I’ll be voting Conservative.
“The election is generally a popularity contest. Jeremy Corbyn appears to be a very angry man who shouts a lot. Tim Farron looks like a rabbit in the headlights.
“Whereas Theresa May, although she was thrust into it, as far as I can tell there wasn’t anyone else who could take on from David Cameron, at least she took the role and said ‘I’ll do what I can do’. At least she sounds calm.”
ConHome: “Have you ever voted Conservative before?”
Kelleher: “No. If I remember correctly, my 18th birthday was polling day for Tony Blair. I voted for him. I don’t think he was a bad chap really.
“The thing that turned me more towards Theresa May was that when Gordon Brown took office, he wasn’t elected and it angered me. At least Theresa May has said, ‘Right, whether it’s good or not we’re going to have an election.’ She’s given us the democratic right to have a vote. I’m quite glad she’s in the lead.”
Torquay does still contain a substantial anti-Conservative vote. A woman of 40 who teaches in a primary school said: “If Adrian Sanders had been standing again, I’m sure he would have stood a good chance of getting back in. You could always rely on him for a reply if you contacted him.
“I think I’ve been more confused in this election than ever before, but I’ve decided to go with the Lib Dems, which is what I normally do. I suppose I became a little bit disillusioned when the Lib Dems went in with the Tories. My brother said, ‘That’s it, they’ve had it,’ and he won’t vote for them again.
“From an educational point of view, I’ve not been impressed with the way things have gone under the Tories. The pressure in schools now is unbelievable. I qualified in 1999 and it’s never been like it is now with the pressure of hours. I’m working 60 to 70 hours a week. Lots of people are off with stress.”
A 33-year-old woman who was drinking a glass of wine in her garden, while allowing her puppy to play with another dog, said she will vote Labour because Corbyn will scrap tuition fees. But as Labour got only 4,166 votes in Torbay in 2015, the party has no realistic hope of victory here.
An 87-year-old man with a stick, his 82-year-old wife and their four-year-old dog were walking through the beautiful gardens near the bowls club.
He turned out to be a former bookmaker, who retired 20 years ago to Torquay, and he said: “We definitely vote Conservative. I think they’ll hold it. She’s doing very well, I thought. I don’t want Scotland to break up from us. I like us all to be together.”
ConHome: “But what about the social care policy?”
“Well we’ve got two sons,” he replied. “We just hope we don’t have to go into a home.”
Their house is their only asset, and they do not wish to sell it. But they hope it will not come to that, and they are certainly not going to change the way they will vote because of this issue.
Tom Coe, a school caretaker aged 65, said that although he is not a wealthy man, he will be voting Conservative: “Before I’ve gone for UKIP in actual fact. The reason why I’m going for Theresa this time is I think she’s the only person who can do the Brexit properly. UKIP are too small for that sort of thing, they’re not powerful enough.”
ConHome: “But what about the social care policy?”
Coe: “With the NHS being in crisis as it is, we’ve got to get the money from somewhere. If people have that amount of money in a house, they should be able to contribute, I’m not saying pay the whole lot. It’s not as if you pay for it there and then. It’s only when you pass on.
“My Mum and Dad are still alive, but we’ve got family around to look after them, so they’re not breaking into their savings.”
Perhaps the beauty of the day, or the pleasure of living in Torquay, had made people disinclined to grumble. But although I interviewed many more people than are quoted here, I chanced upon no one who was steamed up about the subject.
It is conceivable they were all sitting at home, writing furious letters of complaint to the Prime Minister.
But as far as I can tell, most people in Torquay regard this as a “silly” row in London, which reflects no worse on Theresa May than on other politicians.