By elections usually occur when an MP dies suddenly or if they resign over some scandal or policy disagreement, but rarely because the MP decides they want a career change. Tristram Hunt did just that, and that’s the problem with career politicians—there is zero loyalty. Hunt wasn’t a local, but Stoke is one of those areas where it’s a Labour stronghold because of the majority of working class people there, which is why he held the seat. Very few people are actually interested in standing for election (apathy) and a high percentage of people leave school at an early age and aren’t interested in politics; an ideal place for a career politician to swoop in and get a coveted seat in Parliament. On 23 February 2017, it will be a test to see how divided the area is, or whether voters will remain loyal to Labour.
Now, it seems that the strange conurbation will have to decide between UKIP and Labour, and after the Brexit vote where 70 percent voted leave (against Labour policies) what do the people actually want? First of all we need to separate fact from alternative truths, and try to understand what the locals seek. The two candidates likely to go head to head are Paul Nuttall who is the MEP for the North West since 2009, and Gareth Snell who is a councilor in nearby Newcastle-under-Lyme (2010-2014, then lost and, elected in 2016 after the death of the local councillor).
Stoke-on-Trent is made up of six towns: Fenton, Longton, Tunstall, Burslem, Stoke, and Hanley. Nuttall has been criticized for not knowing all six towns, but to be honest many locals don’t either. Ask any of the shoppers in Hanley and you’ll be lucky to find more than a handful that know them without hesitating. I speak as a local, because the entire area is made up of small towns and villages, and the original six are pretty dire places that are no longer as significant. Apparently he forgot Tunstall, and if you have ever been there, then you would want to forget it. Let me tell you what these places are really like and the people, because once upon a time they were the heart of the Potteries, but now they are rundown places. Labour has always been in control, since 1950, so you can’t really blame anyone else for the failures, and it takes a local to be honest about it all.
Fenton ~ There isn’t much there and you could drive past it without even knowing. The only major things there are a few large retail stores. It does have a local pool, and a claim to fame—Frank Bough was born there.
Tunstall ~ A friend asked me to go to Tunstall with her a few weeks ago to pick up something, and I can honestly say I have never been so petrified walking somewhere during the daytime. The local café is run by Romanians, and there are drug dealers, migrants, and refugees wandering around the main street. I’ve traveled the world by myself a few times, been stranded on mountains, and lost in jungles and I wasn’t as afraid as I was on that day.
Hanley ~ I worked in the Potteries Centre (the main shopping area for 20 miles) for a few years in the local department store. It was atrocious; the people are poor and uneducated with little ambition or interest in matters outside of football and the pub. Many of the streets have boarded up storefronts, and it’s not a place to wander around once the shops have closed.
Stoke ~ Besides the train station, the place is made up of discount stores and pawn shops.
Longton ~ To be honest the place is so tiny, there is no reason to go there. Years ago there was a nightclub that was closed down due to drugs. I think you maybe getting the picture of what the towns are like.
Burslem ~ Most people know this due to Port Vale Football Club, and the art school. It’s tiny and most people drive through it without realizing. My brother went to art school here, and I never had any other reason to venture there.
For the record I don’t support either Labour or UKIP, but by elections are hard work in Stoke because there is a general apathy in the area, where people don’t bother to vote. The only people who do are generally the activists or those who know the candidates. Let’s us look at who is best suited to the job, but bear in mind the following:
- Reviving the ceramics industry is futile. It’s not a career, the only people who worked there are those who failed their exams and had nowhere else to go. Even the factory shops that sell Royal Doulton have ‘Made in China’ on the goods. They have about as much chance of that as resurrecting Silverdale colliery (which is impossible as there are a couple of thousand homes built on the land now).
- Locals have been in the area for generations and are governed by tradition. The young who stay are those who didn’t have further education, and the older generations are predominately blue collar workers. Many are only interested in schools, and the NHS as that’s what affects them.
- Migrants are an issue as many areas are over populated with migrants and refugees. Some areas are no go zones, and many refuse to speak English.
Nuttall versus Snell
Local ~ Nuttall is from nearby Merseyside, and Snell is from Suffolk and has lived in the area for a decade including his Keele University years. Neither is actually local, but Nutall wins here because he is from the North West and has a better idea of how the people in the area think. Snell may have been in the area for nearly a decade, but he doesn’t know the area or the people. He is the councillor for Silverdale, a small former mining village. I just happen to have been born there, and he lives a few doors away from where my godfather (a miner) used to live. I doubt he knows much about the actual area, or actively supports where he lives which looks as if a bomb has hit it, and then people just carried on.
Alternative facts ~ I think there will be a tie here. Labour recently posted through the door of residents in Silverdale that the library was being closed down and action needed to be taken to protest. I ran down to see if this was true, and it wasn’t completely true, but hours were cut. There are threats to close libraries all of the time, and it remains open. UKIP have had other issues with being far right, and Farage does the party more harm than good. Supporting Brexit doesn’t mean that UKIP supports Trump, but control and change. I see the message isn’t conveyed clearly, and with too many changes in the leadership, the party needs some focus and not on Trump and his example. Recently Nuttall also got caught out saying he had close friends who died at Hillsborough, when they were football friends—more of an exaggeration than a lie by his PR and a lesson to proofread anything thing that goes online.
Brexit ~ Stoke voted to leave the EU with 70% out of a 49% turnout. Snell voted to remain, which was the Labour line, and Nuttall voted to leave. On this premise alone, Nuttall wins because there is a high degree of discontentment with migrants taking up council houses and jobs in an already impoverished area. It would be hard for Snell to convince the electorate he supports the leave campaign. This also shows that the electorate will go against what their party advocates. The issue of migrants is one of utmost importance as it negatively affects all households in the area.
Experience ~ Nuttall is in his second term as an MEP and has slightly more experience of how politics works. Snell has only been involved in local council politics and to be honest; I was born in the area, and as my neighbour says, if you drink in the right pub you can get voted in. Simply put, there is no competition in the area because no one is interested. It’s possible Snell saw this as an opportunity to get voted in to kick start his political career, as he isn’t local and was a student at Keele. Most people don’t take it seriously as you can see many don’t even attend meetings. I met the mother of another councilor who had met him, who said he lacked maturity, and given that tweets that include swear words and hostile language have been highlighted, that tallies with her assessment.
The ultimate question is whether the locals will vote Labour because they always have done, although they ignored the remain campaign. Will they be skeptical of another career politician, Snell in particular whose wife, Sophia Snell (another former Keele student) who has been a councilor for a nearby ward?
What are the priorities—controlled migration (that affects housing, schools, hospitals, and services) or jobs? Well, everywhere wants more jobs (or well paid ones) and that’s been an ongoing issue for the past five decades in the area, and Labour has never done much about it. Will it be about the actual candidates? Neither are locals, and as for people claiming that Nuttall doesn’t live in the area, neither does Snell who lives in Newcastle-under-Lyme, which is not in Stoke-on-Trent. Some may say it’s nearby, but trust me, not many from Newcastle would say they were from Stoke. It will be about getting people to get out and to vote, and the turnout maybe low as in general only Labour radicals and activists tend to campaign aggressively.
What are the pros?
- Nuttall: He has more experience of politics, and to have a leader of a party as an MP carries more weight. He supports leaving the EU, which the majority of the electorate voted for, and as he was born in the North West, he is considered more local than Snell.
- Snell: Labour is strong in the area, and people will vote Labour whether they like the candidate or not through tradition. Often many do and don’t even know the name of the candidate they are voting for.
What are the cons?
- Nutall: He needs to ditch Farage, as that will end up losing votes for UKIP because he supports Trump who is a danger to the world. The belief is that if people voted for Brexit they also support Trump. That is not the case; Farage is a liability. UKIP is still seen as a racist party, and they need to dispel that myth, and have not been successful.
- Snell: His lack of experience coupled with social media outbursts (swearing and attacking others, along with a deleted Facebook account) doesn’t indicate a candidate that is mature enough to cope with the job. His campaign hinges on him promoting himself as a local—living in a place for a few years doesn’t make you a local. Does he support the local shops in the village, for instance? I doubt it and my parents live less than a mile from his house and have never seen him support the village. Is he a career politician like Hunt?
Many people are a product of their environment, but not I. I grew up in a Labour strong area and had it indoctrinated in me that the Tories were evil, in fact everything was evil except Labour. I was told I should be grateful for Labour for all they have done, yet I have always been able to assess things on merit for myself. You need to understand the people of Stoke to understand why they voted for Brexit; that they may stick with Labour, but that is because many have been brainwashed and indoctrinated since birth. Perhaps a new generation will have lost faith in Labour, especially as the party is so divided and has no direction or leadership. The people of Stoke are simple; they want a decent school for their kids, access to social housing, to be able to see a doctor when they need to, go to hospital without having to wait a couple of years for an operation, and to have a job that pays the bills with enough for a couple of nights in the pub. Whoever can deliver on that realistically will win.