A woman in her 40s in a pub in West Bromwich, a pint of lager sitting untouched on the table in front of her while she has her say about the general election:
“I have never been for the Conservatives. I have always been for the people.
“As for Boris Johnson, he is such a fool. He’s the most charismatic fool that I have ever met.
“If I was going to vote, I’d vote for Boris Johnson because he’s a fool.
“I don’t care that he’s lied and cheated because that is his way and I support Boris.
“I will definitely vote for Boris, liar, cheat and fool! And for Brexit! I want to get out.”
And here is a man, a bus driver, talking in a calmer tone in the same pub, but sounding just as resolute: “Boris Johnson is doing what he said he’s going to do. He’s like Trump, Mr Donald Trump.
“Trump is sound without the shadow of a doubt.
“Mr Boris Johnson, I like him. OK, he’s had a bit of argy-bargy with his other half, but that’s water under the bridge.
“Boris is having my vote without a shadow of a doubt. Round here, they’re all swinging to the Conservatives.
“It needs someone to kick Mr Watson [the local MP] off his pedestal. Get a woman in there. We need a strong Labour woman on Sandwell Council.”
“Round here” is West Bromwich East, the constituency of Tom Watson, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, along with various other mostly Labour seats in the West Midlands.
On Monday The Sun reported that the Conservatives are hoping to defeat Watson. This seems on the face of it a tall order: he has a majority of 7,713, and the seat has always been Labour, since 1997 with pretty comfortable majorities.
In 1983, when the Conservative candidate fell only 298 votes short of Labour, the Liberals came a strong third, which is unlikely to happen this time, for the Liberal Democrats have done poorly here in recent years.
George Galloway and Harvey Proctor – the latter because he is so angry about Watson’s role in the Carl Beech scandal – have both said they will stand in West Bromwich East, but neither of them came up in conversation.
The cut-through issue in the West Midlands is Brexit. It was mentioned without any prompting by almost everyone. Here is a retired builder from Walsall, a borough where the Conservatives already hold two out of the three seats:
“I’ll vote for the one that gets us out [of the EU]. I think it’s absolutely disgusting. It’s three years now.
“I will definitely vote for Boris Johnson because he’s done more to get us out than anyone else. And all my friends in Walsall feel the same way. Well beyond Walsall.”
ConHome: “Are you usually a Conservative voter?”
The builder: “Well no. I don’t stay with the same one. It’s whoever I think is best at the time.
“If that Labour chap [Jeremy Corbyn] gets in the only thing to do is to leave England and go and live somewhere else. Because it’ll be a disaster with him.
“What’s the other one? The Liberal Democrats. If they got in it’d be the end of democracy altogether.
“They said they’d take no notice of the referendum full stop. What would be the point in voting again?”
A courier broke into the conversation: “Don’t talk about Corbyn in this town. The man who hates Britain. I’ve voted Labour all my life. I come from a Labour family.
“But I would never ever vote Labour while Jeremy Corbyn has anything to do with it. And we need to get Tom Watson out of this town. Sixty-seven per cent of people here voted to leave. He’s supposed to represent us. This time I’m voting Conservative.”
Nigel Farage’s name came up from time to time, but as someone people had voted for in the past. Only one man said he will be voting for Farage this time, while lamenting that this will be be a wasted vote.
Opinion polls tell us that Johnson is more popular than Corbyn. But what the polls cannot convey is the way people talk about Johnson, or the strength of their feeling about him and about the cause which for them he represents.
These voters do not regard the Prime Minister as a saint. But they do regard him as the strongest champion for Brexit, a cause dear to them, and one which they are enraged to see other politicians deserting.
“Obviously he’s well educated compared to us plebeians round here,” one man said, in a friendly tone which indicated that for him, this was no reason not to support the Prime Minister.
The High Street in West Bromwich contains some fine buildings including the Central Library, entered beneath stained glass images of Shakespeare and Milton.
One finds oneself in an entrance hall adorned with mosaics, tiles, paintings, busts of local worthies, memorials to the dead of two world wars, an inscription which reads “This Building is the Gift of Mr Andrew Carnegie to the Borough 1906”, and the arms of the town with its motto, “Labor vincit omnia”.
Work conquers all, but in recent decades West Bromwich has not always had enough work. The High Street contains numerous charity shops and I was able to buy lunch for two pounds in the Poundbakery – “Tasty Baking at Tasty Prices”.
A pub just along the road was closed and semi-derelict, and there were a number of other empty premises. Out-of-town shopping has hit streets like this hard.
I asked the respectable middle-aged lady sitting on the bench beside me, her woollen coat adorned with a metal poppy, how she expects to vote in the general election – a rather personal question, but one she received with friendliness.
“I don’t know,” she said. “What’s he done for me anyway? Not a lot.
“I do vote Labour, yes. I don’t know. I ain’t got no interest in it.
“Once they’re there [in Parliament], they don’t want to know the little people.”
ConHome: “What do you think of Boris Johnson?”
The lady: “I don’t like him.” She smiled, and repeated: “I don’t like him at all.”
ConHome: “Why don’t you like him?”
The lady: “I don’t know. They’re only out for themselves. We don’t exist. They’re only in there for the money. This country is shit.”
In an opinion poll she could be put down as a “don’t know”, but those words do not quite do justice to the depth of her disillusion.