WITH no Brexit Party candidate standing in Mansfield, the Nottinghamshire town has become a bellwether constituency that is likely to indicate how the nation will vote at the General Election.
The Sun on Sunday’s election columnist Ian Austin, who quit Labour over anti-Semitism, travelled there ahead of next month’s poll. He found a town which has turned away from old Labour allegiances – just as he has.
COAL and clothing were once key to the fortunes of Mansfield — a town that the eyes of Britain will be on during election night.
Today the collieries and mills that were once its lifeblood are gone. Their legacy is told in the Made In Mansfield museum exhibition in the heart of the town — a relic of the glory days of the past.
Mansfield, which had one of the highest Leave votes in the country, is set to be a bellwether seat — a constituency that will speak for Britain on polling day.
It is also the town where at the last General Election decades of Labour loyalties were left in tatters when it elected local lad Ben Bradley — the first time the seat has been represented by a Conservative since it was created in 1885.
Next month Mansfield is one of the seats where The Brexit Party will not field a candidate, to avoid a split in the Leave vote.
I was keen to see for myself just how many truly had abandoned generations of voting Labour.
I was struck, not only by the deep pride voters in Market Square have in their town and their heritage, but also by the similarities with my own former constituency in Dudley.
These are proud, hard-working, honest and patriotic people — many of whom have generations of their family who voted Labour.
But it’s clear they now feel betrayed by Jeremy Corbyn. They fear swingeing tax hikes as well as his support for terrorists and the anti-Semitism that has poisoned the Labour Party under his leadership.
Voter Barbara Sellers, 65, says she doesn’t trust Jeremy Corbyn to run the country[/caption]
Ex-coalminer Michael Kozlowski, 69, says he ‘I doesn’t want a Communist’ in No10[/caption]
Former pit worker Michael Kozlowski, 69, whose father and grandfather also worked Mansfield’s colliery, told me: “My grandfather and father would turn in their graves to think I’ve turned away from Labour but I have no choice.
“People don’t vote Labour round here any more. The men used to work the pits here and the girls used to go to the hosiery mills. People were well-off.
“But when they closed, the town struggled, and it’s still struggling. Almost everyone I know voted Leave but look what’s happened. Are we living in a democracy now?
“I won’t be voting Labour. I don’t want a Communist. They are a racist party. I don’t like anti-Semitism. He supports terrorists. If I decide to vote I will go Tory.”
Almost 71 per cent of Mansfield’s electorate voted for Brexit. Around 3,000 residents — 4.9 per cent of those aged between 16 and 64 and actively looking for a job — are unemployed.
That is higher than England’s average of 4.1 per cent. A further 18,000 people were classed as inactive as they were not taking steps to find work for at least four weeks.
Full-time workers in Mansfield earned £453 a week on average compared to £575 across England. The town has struggled to recover from job losses.
Barbara Sellers, 65, who was shopping on Market Square, told me: “Twenty years ago you could barely move for market stalls here, but there’s far fewer now.
“My grandfather, father, uncle and brothers all worked at Rufford Colliery in Rainworth and I worked there in the canteen. It’s gone now. Entire families were put out of work. We used to vote Labour but I could never vote for Corbyn as I don’t trust him to run the country.
“Would he leave us defenceless? He has promised everyone broadband but who is going to pay for that? It’s clearly going to come from sky-rocketing taxes. The British people voted Leave. Boris will honour Leave and that’s why he’s got my vote. I also cannot support any party who could be anti-Semitic.”
Fishmonger Michael Kitching, 59, said: “I’m disillusioned. I never voted in my life until the Referendum. I chose to vote Leave. We should be able to make our own laws.
“The only party that’s going to leave are the Conservatives so that’s the only way I’m going to go.
“My daughter Jessica, 21, is a nursing student who says she’s going to vote Labour as Corbyn has promised to write off her student debt. I keep asking her, ‘Where will he magic all that money from?’” All that remains of Mansfield’s hosiery factories are samples in the Made In Mansfield exhibit.
Alex Yorke, 63, admits only a “handful” of items he sells on his hosiery stall in the market are still made in the UK.
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He said: “I voted Ukip last time but I now intend to vote Conservative, purely because they are Leave. Mansfield was known for its hosiery. When I first started up I would go to the factories here.
“I’m against Corbyn as I think he’s a Remainer in disguise. We need to rebuild manufacturing here and in the rest of Britain. We want a trade deal from Europe that takes us back to 1974 when things were better.”
Old allegiances may die hard, but in this town it is clear people hope that Made In Mansfield will one day be more than just the name of a museum attraction.
Lowe wise to give up
FAIR play to Brexit Party candidate Rupert Lowe for pulling out of the election in Dudley on Thursday and giving the Tories a much better chance of taking my old seat.
He knows that anything less than an overall majority for Boris risks letting Corbyn in to No10.
He put country before party and acted in the national interest to keep Corbyn out.
Let’s hope Brexit Party voters across the country follow his lead.
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