“So at the moment it’s a really good election – the BBC election, Boris, Brexit and Corbyn.”
Those words were spoken yesterday afternoon by Chris Green, who in 2015 won Bolton West from Labour by the slender margin of 801 votes, which in 2017 he increased to the still far from comfortable figure of 936.
Almost five years ago, ConHome championed a form of conservatism that would help to win this seat in the 2015 election.
Green looks happier than when ConHome visited him during the 2015 campaign – he indeed gained the seat that year – and says things are going much better than they did in 2017:
“People may not be flocking to the Conservatives, though we are doing reasonably well. But people definitely are wanting something other than Labour.
“In 2017, the feedback was very positive, there were a significant number of Labour switchers, but then when things went wrong with the manifesto, the switchers were pushed away, we almost told those voters, ‘We don’t want your support.’
“Whereas this time so far we’ve been able to hold onto them.”
Part of the difficulty in 2017 was that “people weren’t really engaged on national issues”. They thought “Brexit had already been done”, as they had voted on it in the referendum the year before.
But now, “people don’t get past the two leaders or Brexit”, and it is difficult to engage them on local issues: “It’s sort of strange when you do loads of local campaigning on really important local issues.”
Nor is immigration, of huge importance to voters in 2015, an issue in this campaign. It has been subsumed within Brexit.
According to Green, his opponent, Julie Hilling, who held Bolton West from 2010-15 with a majority of only 92 votes, has a large number of Momentum canvassers who are students from outside the area: “They get agitated when they go to very working-class communities who tell them, ‘You’ve never done anything for us’, and who want Brexit.”
In the local elections in May, Labour lost control of Bolton council and failed to win a single seat in Bolton West, with much of the damage being inflicted by independents.
Bolton is divided into three parliamentary seats, each of which stretches far beyond the town: Bolton West, held by Green with the lowest Conservative majority in the North-West; Bolton North East, which the Conservatives had high hopes of gaining in 2017 but where David Crausby held on for Labour by 3797 votes; and Bolton South-East, held by Yasmin Qureshi for Labour by 13,126 votes.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that Labour is going to have great difficulty getting its vote out this time.
But first a note about an important local issue. The train service to Bolton, as to many northern towns, is wretched.
Two services from Wigan to Bolton were cancelled yesterday lunchtime, the first because the brakes could not be released on the crummy two-coach unit, the second because a four-coach unit had likewise developed “a technical fault”, or else, some said, was going to be used to tow the first train away.
A woman from Wigan who had been held up for an hour, and had also had to cope with a malfunctioning ticket machine, gave her opinion of the service: “It’s shit.”
She turned to the general election: “My father has voted his entire life and he’s 84 and he’s Labour through and through, and he said, ‘I am not voting’.”
She herself is casting around for an alternative to Labour: “It’s pointless voting in Wigan, it’s a Labour town, but the Brexit Party will do very well I think.
“All of them need clearing out. There should be a What The Shit Party or a What’s The Point Party.
“I personally will probably vote for the Brexit Party. But apparently I’m a bit thick because I’m from up North and I didn’t understand what I was voting for [in the referendum].
“And I’ve got a property in Portugal and there I see EU money everywhere. I don’t go more than a mile without seeing the EU stars. When was the last time you saw an EU star here? We can’t get our potholes filled in.”
A quite different outlook was offered by a Muslim businessman aged 46 who was born in Bolton: “I like Jeremy Corbyn. I think Jeremy Corbyn comes across like a people’s man and he’s someone for Joe Public.
“Mr Boris Johnson, I don’t think he’s got the qualities to be Prime Minister. He says one thing, he does another.
“I liked Theresa May more than Boris Johnson. She came across as very professional.
“I don’t like what Boris Johnson said about people wearing the hijab looking like letterboxes. For a man in that position to say that in public, what kind of ideology and thoughts would he have in private?
“Mr David Crausby, he’s been a great servant, I think he’ll win, he’s been good for the community.”
In The Old Three Crowns pub in Deansgate, a saxophone player who performs at weddings and in restaurants said with implacable firmness: “I’m still waiting for Brexit. I refuse to vote until that happens. I won’t vote until we’re out of the EU. I’ve no faith in democracy.”
A retired soldier said he always votes Conservative, and will do so again this time, even though in the referendum he voted Remain.
Round the corner, in The Millstone pub, a retired accountant said he will support the Conservatives as “they manage the economy better – the rest are just spend, spend, spend.” He voted Leave in the referendum and regards Boris Johnson as “the best of a bad bunch”.
Three builders aged 31, 23 and 21 said they have no intention of voting. The oldest said: “I’ve never voted. It’s not explained well enough. Give us a valid reason that’ll change my life and I might.
“There’s nothing big enough that makes me want to vote. I’ve been through the recession and all that. I survived. Who comes in power next, it’s not going to affect me in the slightest. I’ll still bring the bread and butter home.”
In Bolton, the Conservative vote is holding firm and the Labour vote is soft. If these trends continue until polling day, the Tories have good chances of taking Bolton North East.