General Election 2017: Theresa May knows taking Bolton North East would help give her majority

Shortly after Parliament approved her motion for an early general election, Theresa May left London and took a helicopter to Bolton North-East.

Riding high on opinion polls that put her party more than 20 points ahead of Labour, she addressed cameras and the Conservative party faithful in Walmsley Parish Hall and issued her Brexit proclamation: “And that’s what this election is about: providing the strong and stable leadership this country needs to take Britain through Brexit and beyond.”

Why did she choose Bolton North-East?

One reason was to lend support in the neighbouring constituency of Bolton West seat where Conservative Chris Green is defending a majority of just 801.

But another was to target Bolton North-East itself and take it from Labour veteran David Crausby who won it last time with 43% of the vote and a majority of 4,377.

If the Conservatives can win seats like this one, Theresa May will secure the majority she desires in Parliament prior to negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union.

And if Labour lose seats like Bolton North-East, then they are likely to lose out in many other parts of their traditional northern heartlands.

But a win for Crausby and a loss for Green would signal that the Conservatives had not performed as well as the Prime Minister expected. That could do serious damage to her as a leader. So Bolton North-East is one of those seats which managers of both main parties will be watching closely.

So who are the runners and riders?

David Crausby, Labour

First elected in the 1997 election that made Tony Blair Prime Minister, David Crausby represents the rise and triumph of Labour in the 1990s and the early 2000s: Daly and May would like to see him come to represent both its decline and its fall.

Crausby has been MP since that 1997 triumph. He has won five elections in total but his majority has slowly been slipping.

Campaigning on local issues and his track record, Crausby is sticking to the line he used in 2015: “I’m Bolton’s man in Westminster, not Westminster’s man in Bolton.” 

He points to his past record protecting the Bolton Maternity unit, securing funding to save the Octogon Theatre from going bust, promoting Bolton’s status by making sure the Magistrates’ court did not close and helping to secure Bolton’s Institute of Higher Education becoming a University in 2004.

Referring back to the years of Labour power – “There are so many health centres and Sure Start centres that just didn’t exist in Bolton before Labour’s investment” – his campaign calls for more investment in the NHS, social housing and transport.

James Daly, Conservative

Though he campaigned here in 2015, James Daly is in some ways a surprise candidate. He was Conservative leader on the Bury council from February 2016 and only joined the campaign in May after Abi Kay, who was initially announced as Bolton North East candidate for this year’s election, stood down citing personal reasons.

Daly talks about building the Northern Powerhouse, bringing jobs here and improving infrastructure, healthcare and education but for him Brexit is paramount; as an MP he “ would be part of Theresa May’s team to get the best deal from Brexit for Bolton.”

Warren Fox, Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats have tended to be a poor third in polling in Bolton North-East but they were punished for their association with the Coalition government and fell down to fourth position, securing less than 3% of the vote in 2015.

On Brexit Fox follows the Liberal Democrat position that a settlement on withdrawal from the European Union needs to be endorsed by a referendum and feels that Bolton is suffering from both local Labour dominance and national Conservative Leadership. Housing is a big issue as is local fear that implementing the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework will adversely affect the local greenbelt area.

He worries that neither of the two dominant parties have a realistic plan to deal with exiting the European Union and is concerned that their rivalry distorts local politics and leads to the neglect of local issues:  “Some areas of Bolton are within the top 7% most deprived areas in the country. Yet Conservative policy at a national level and Labour policy at a local level has failed to tackle this at all.

At a local Level the Conservatives have the same issue as Labour nationally. They’re extremely weak in opposition.”

Harry Lamb, UKIP

Harry Lamb of UKIP won over 8000 votes – almost a fifth of the total cast – in 2015 and would claim that Bolton’s vote by 58 to 42% to leave the EU last year was a sign of growing UKIP strength in the Bolton area.  

UKIP also won 20% of the votes cast in Council elections in 2016.

Harry Lamb and Bolton UKIP do not trust that the Prime Minister to deliver a sufficiently hard Brexit.

However, UKIP seems to have been in decline since the referendum and Nigel Farage’s resignation as leader. One of the key questions of this election is what will happen if the UKIP vote does not hold: will it dissipate or will it decamp en masse to the Conservatives?

Liz Spencer, The Green Party

The Green Party candidate Liz Spencer is running for the first time in Bolton North-East and she voices similar concerns to Warren Fox. For her, housing and funding for public services are the dominant issues.

She says:  “The primary focus of the campaign here is on the effect of years of cuts to public services and the ongoing threats to these.

“Housing needs are a concern right across the constituency whether that is in regard to outright homelessness, the lack of social housing, and the massive problems in the rented sector or the difficulty of house purchase.”

Main image courtesy of the BBC pool service, with thanks.

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