Updated: Saturday, 18th November 2017 @ 8:06am

General Election 2017: 'I don't know who they are' – Bury, a town split when it comes to politics

General Election 2017: 'I don't know who they are' – Bury, a town split when it comes to politics

| By Tom George

Nestled in the shadow of the West Pennine Moors, Bury is a town steeped in political history.

The old Lancashire mill town may be renowned for black pudding and its ‘world famous’ market, but it is also the birthplace of Sir Robert Peel, the two-time Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and founder of the police force and modern Conservative Party.

Peel is revered in the town, with a statue of him taking pride of place in Bury town centre, and a monument in his name standing on top of nearby Holcombe Hill.

Despite the omnipresence of one of the most influential members in Conservative Party history, Bury is a town split when it comes to politics.

The Bury North constituency, covering much of Bury, as well as the towns of Tottington and Ramsbottom, was created in 1983 and has been a bellwether seat ever since: the party that has triumphed here has won nationally during each of the last eight general elections.

Its reputation for swinging with the political wind means that it has become a key battleground for both Labour and the Conservatives, and all eyes will undoubtedly be on the area come election day.

‘UNFINISHED BUSINESS’

From its creation in 1983 to 1997, Bury North was represented by Bury-born Conservative Alistair Burt, the now MP for North East Bedfordshire.

When Burt lost his seat in the Labour landslide of 1997, he was replaced by David Chaytor, the disgraced former Labour MP, who became the first MP to be jailed during the parliamentary expenses scandal.

The current MP is the Tory David Nuttall, who retained his seat in 2015 with a slender majority of just 378 votes, fending off strong opposition from Labour’s James Frith.

The pair will go head-to-head again this year after Frith won the Labour nomination, beating off competition from Karen Danczuk, the ex-wife of Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk.

The man charged with winning back the seat is already working hard to regain the trust of the people of Bury North.

The 40-year-old, formerly a local councillor for Elton, is the founder of education and careers advice company All Together and upon announcing his intention to stand for a second time declared that he had “unfinished business.”

Frith has promised to work alongside newly elected Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham to rewrite the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, a highly contentious scheme which proposes mass house building on vast swathes of green belt land around the region.

Nuttall has also expressed his own criticism of the plans, and has even raised the issue in Parliament over the last couple of months.

A large group of Bury residents have been vociferous in their opposition to the project, and the candidates’ views on this matter are likely to be an important factor when people head to the polls next month.

Nuttall was one of a number of Tory MPs recently under investigation over claims the party breached election spending rules in 2015, although he was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.

The 55-year-old former solicitor is now free to compete to retain his seat for the third time and has stated that he believes the current campaign will be fought along Brexit lines, something which 54% of his constituency voted for last June.

Since becoming an MP in 2010, Nuttall has forged a reputation for himself as a Conservative Party rebel, sitting ideologically on the right of his party on the majority issues.

There has even been talk of him defecting to UKIP in the past, such is the conviction of his belief that Britain should leave the European Union.

In April, UKIP leader Paul Nuttall pledged that his party would stand aside in seats where the Conservative candidate shares a similar view on Brexit, even going as far as citing David Nuttall as an example.

With UKIP now having confirmed that this will be the case in Bury North, the prospect of all 5,559 votes the party’s candidate received two years ago being transferred to Nuttall would be a huge blow to Frith’s chances.

The Green Party have also announced that they will not be fielding a candidate in Bury North for what they describe as the ‘common good’.

The Liberal Democrats’ candidate Richard Baum will stand for the third time, but has urged supporters to vote for Frith in a bid to defeat the Conservatives. The Somerset-based NHS worker finished fifth in 2015 receiving just 932 votes.

It is clear that the Tories are confident of building on their existing foundations in the North West, with Theresa May even opting to launch her party’s campaign in neighbouring Bolton.

‘GOTTEN SILLY’

Earlier in the month, the town’s local newspaper, the Bury Times, carried an advert from the party on its front page, urging voters to get behind May’s ‘strong and stable leadership’.

This highlights just how committed the Tories are to building on their foothold in the town, however, it caused uproar among some residents due to the fact the paper went on sale the day the town was due to head to the polls for the Greater Manchester Mayoral Election.

After speaking to people at Bury Market, it is clear that many here will base their vote on what is going on nationally rather than locally. In fact, many admitted knowing very little about what was being offered by either Nuttall or Frith.

Bury resident Jean Tannock, 79, said: “I haven’t had any literature from local candidates. I have had lots of ‘personal’ letters from Theresa May. It’s gotten silly, I would like to hear more from the local candidates because I don’t know who they are.

“The main issue for me will be whether my pension keeps going into my bank account and whether they do away with bus passes because if they do I’m lost.

“I’ve always used public transport and it’s the one thing that I’m so grateful for because my bus pass allows me to see my family and go out with my friends.”

Meanwhile, Mark Hamer, co-owner of one of the market’s numerous butchers said that he intends to vote Conservative, although he doesn’t know “too much about any of the local candidates.”

Laura Murphy, a 23-year-old paralegal, told MM she was undecided on who to vote for, although she is currently edging more towards Labour.

“I don’t want fox hunting to become legal and Theresa May isn’t a good Prime Minister. Some of her policies are not just not good for the country.”

In Ramsbottom, a traditionally Conservative part of the constituency which is often named one of the best places to live in the country, voters are also split.

Ramsbottom resident Laura Bradley, 46, is adamant she will be voting Labour. “I always have done and always will do, I believe in equality. I’m not very positive about David Nuttall at all.”

Mother-of-two Joanne Barrett, who lives in nearby Greenmount, told MM that she planned on voting for the Conservatives. 

"I prefer their approach to that of Labour. I would like to see the NHS funding managed better, social care given more careful consideration and I think that immigration does need to be reduced to a more sustainable level.”

The town, just four miles north of Bury town centre, has undergone gentrification over the past few years, with a number of independent bars, restaurants and coffee shops which have sprouted up imbuing the area with an almost Chorlton-esque feel.

Every September Ramsbottom plays host to the annual Black Pudding Throwing World Championships, where participants toss black puddings in an attempt to dislodge a stack of Yorkshire puddings.

Despite the old cliché that you should never mix politics with sport, this may well act as an apt analogy for what Frith hopes to do to the Sheffield-born Nuttall come election day.

Image courtesy of Mick Ofbury via YouTube, with thanks.