Ever since its creation in 1983, Heywood and Middleton has had 36 years of uninterrupted Labour rule.
Liz McInnes has been the MP since winning a by-election in 2014 and she is seeking to increase her majority of 7,617.
However, this election could be difficult for McInnes if the YouGov MRP poll is to be believed, Labour is only 2% ahead of the Conservatives in this seat – 40 versus 38.
Chris Clarkson is aspiring to become the first Tory MP to represent the Greater Manchester constituency. His vote share increased by 18.9% in 2017, compared to the 2015 election, as the UKIP vote collapsed by 25.7%.
In an interview with MM, we discussed all sorts of issues ranging from representation, Brexit, the police, unemployment and the future of the NHS.
Why did you decide to contest the election in Heywood and Middleton again?
To be honest, because I had such a good time doing it last time (in 2017). I really love the place. I really enjoy working with the people I was working with. There’s so much potential there to do really good things for the area. You can sense that people were starting to think that there was something different they could do. I think it has been taken for granted for a very long time by the Labour Party. I think on the ground, people are starting to realise that they have been taken for granted.
How important do you think it is important for prospective candidates to have a constituency link?
In an ideal world, yes they would – but the reality is that they have had an MP who hasn’t even been bothered moving to the constituency for five years. I’ve actually made a pledge to move to the constituency if I win. It is important to be based there, because if you want to represent them then you need to understand what is going on in their day-to-day lives.
Isn’t ‘Get Brexit done’ misleading given if Johnson gets a majority there will be more arduous negotiations ahead?
No, because we will have left the EU, that’s the whole point. It has been blocked actively by MPs at the moment – including Heywood and Middleton’s MP who has voted against it every single time despite over 60% of her constituents saying that they wanted to leave. We are getting Brexit done by leaving the European Union. As soon as that deal is passed into law, we are no longer members of the European Union.
We’ve got the plan to get Brexit done and unleash Britain’s potential. pic.twitter.com/icGibZ7Bpq
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) December 2, 2019
20,000 police officers – isn’t that just overturning the cuts that took place under the coalition?
It’s levelling back up to where we were before austerity, absolutely. Some tough decisions had to be made in order to undo some of the massive damage to the economy that Labour had done. But, I think it’s a welcome start. Certainly, over the course of the next parliament, I’d like to see what we could do to increase police numbers and give them more powers.
The Conservatives have never won in the constituency. How are you planning to change the perception of the party?
Well, we’re not having to do a lot of the work to change that perception. People are looking what’s going on around them and they are seeing we’re the only ones who are actually talking about what they care about now. We are the only ones listening to them what they said in the referendum in 2016 and we’re the only ones who are willing to put our money where our mouth is and deliver.
The constituency has a high unemployment rate – about 5.6% – higher than the national average – how will the Conservatives address this?
Well, I think we will have to be innovative. We are going to look at the reasons that the employment rate is lower in the area. It has to be things like the lack of proper infrastructure to attract businesses to the area. So it’s going to be about making sure – one: the conditions are there to attract businesses to the area. Two: there is affordable housing – built, ideally, on brownfield first – that is acceptable to people and is not subject to ridiculous land rent charges. Beyond that, we also need to work with schools to make sure there are the right skill sets available to the industries in the area. I don’t want another situation like in Salford Quays where they spend billions of pounds building this fantastic new development where none of the jobs are accessible to local people.
By not offering a second referendum, is the party worried that there is no support for one specific type of Brexit?
No, not at all. Look, a second referendum is just the unicorn that the remain campaign has tossed out because they want to make it sound like they are not trying to ignore the will of the people. That ballot paper had a very simple question on it: remain a member of the European Union, or leave the European Union. People chose the latter option. We have to leave the European Union; it is as simple as that. A second referendum is simply another way of dodging the issue and trying to overturn the referendum result.
Particularly as the constituency voted 62% to leave the EU in 2016, what impact do you think the Brexit Party will have?
Well, luckily we are having enough conversations on the doorstep that they realise that their only real role is to be a spoiler. Liz McInnes must be absolutely delighted that they have decided to stand. Colin Lambert is former Labour member and as far as I am aware, has a bit of a grudge against Liz McInnes and that’s why he’s standing. So it’s not really about Brexit for him at all. But, people are starting to see that – we’ve had conversations where people have said well I was going to vote Brexit, but I can tell you’re the only ones that can beat her.
I wrote to the Tory Government calling on them to help 1950s-born women facing financial hardship due to unjust pension reforms but the Government has refused to help. Read the Government Minister’s response to my letter below.@WASPI_Campaign_ #1950sWomen #WASPI pic.twitter.com/YtGkMlu3Ws
— Liz McInnes MP (@LizMcInnes_MP) December 2, 2019
Why is the manifesto pledge on health and social care policy vague? Is it just trying to avoid a repeat of 2017?
Well, no, I think in reality it’s not vague so much as open-ended. The idea is that this is not going to be an issue that can be boxed in one quick sitting. We are going to have to sit down with all parties because in a democracy, there is going to come a point when we’re not the party of government anymore and that policy needs to be sustainable and implementable for all parties. I think it is a national responsibility.
How can we be certain whether the NHS will remain off the table in any future trade negotiations?
It’s as simple as this – Boris has said from pretty much the get-go that he is willing to walk away from negotiations with Brexit and in this case, he is willing to walk away from negotiations on trade if there is a red line crossed. It’s as simple as that. I mean the only people who are talking about privatising the NHS are the Labour Party, who ironically are the only party which has privatised part of the NHS. It’s the same lie they have told in every single election. You don’t need to look very far on Twitter to see the clipping from Private Eye where they just show every time the Labour Party have used this lie in an election. And that’s all it is, it’s a lie.”
Fresh morning out – popped into Queens Park craft fair with Mum and treated us to some fantastic cupcakes! pic.twitter.com/ZvpCpa9CP3
— Christopher Clarkson (@ToryMemo) December 1, 2019
MM approached the Labour Party Heywood and Middleton constituency office.
Colin Lambert, Brexit Party candidate for Heywood and Middleton, said: “I am very clear why I joined and campaigned with the Brexit Party. I first campaigned to leave the EU in 1975 when was was 17 (sic). Strangely it was against Labour then.
“I am standing for democracy and the right for people to have their vote respected.
“And unlike the Tory candidate I have lived here for over 40 years and worked here and brought up our children here. Politics must never be about personalities. So he clearly does not know what he is talking about.”
To find out more about the other candidates standing in Heywood and Middleton click here.