In Birmingham Northfield, the city’s most marginal constituency and former red wall territory, voters were less than impressed by the candidates vying to be the next prime minister.
“I am a bit disillusioned. I am a Tory supporter and I am a Tory voter,” said Adrian Smith, a cobbler. “But I would have to dig deep and have a really good look at it before I decide whether I’ll vote Conservative again after all this.”
Like many, he said he hadn’t heard of many candidates in the running and felt the political infighting had damaged the party’s reputation. “The way it has all unfolded has definitely affected my voting intentions. And I don’t honestly think I’m an isolated person in that respect, I think that is probably the nation as a whole.”
The Conservatives took Birmingham Northfield from Labour in the 2019 general election with a majority of just 1,640, and there are questions about whether they could hold on to seats such as this without Boris Johnson’s previous popularity.
“I was a Boris fan, very much so at the start, although he did start to flag a bit over time. I don’t think anyone could have handled the pandemic much better,” Smith said. “But it always seems when a leader goes out of favour, there’s a lot of backstabbing that goes on.”
Leopold Strachan, a tailor in Northfield Market, felt the government had helped businesses well during the pandemic but said Johnson “should have gone a long time ago”.
He said he was a floating voter and had voted Conservative in the past, but he didn’t have much hope for the current leadership candidates and felt he had “heard it all before”.
“Anyone getting in will be just the same, because it’s just the same cabinet,” Strachan said. “At least with Rishi [Sunak] I know we’ll be on a sound footing. He can get all these votes now, but when it gets to the Conservative party where everyone has a vote, I think racism is going to come into play.”
The area in south-west Birmingham was once dominated by the Longbridge motor works, which closed with the collapse of MG Rover in 2005 leading the loss of thousands of local jobs. The site is now undergoing a regeneration project, hailed by the West Midlands’ Conservative mayor, Andy Street, as a “tangible example of levelling up”.
Many of the Tory candidates are pinning hopes on levelling up as an appealing policy commitment, but the subject failed to register much interest in conversation with Northfield voters, who often quickly changed the subject.
Linda Walker, a retired teaching assistant shopping in the market, said Sajid Javid had been her favourite candidate. He dropped out of the race last week. Her next preference was Rishi Sunak – “I just haven’t heard of any of the other ones,” Walker said.
It was apparent that many of the candidates were unknown to members of the public, with names such as Penny Mordaunt and Kemi Badenoch met with blank faces.
Strachan was one of many voters to raise concerns over the tax cuts being promised by the candidates, describing them as “fairyland”. “Do we want to drown ourselves in more problems 10 years down the line?” he said.
Justine Marklew, a Labour voter, said she felt the leadership race was “self-indulgent” at a time when the country is in crisis. “They’re making all these pledges but they could have done this already and haven’t, so what has changed?”
She said she couldn’t understand why so many working-class voters had turned towards the Conservatives at the last general election, but she was doubtful about whether Labour was doing enough to win voters back in places such as Northfield.
“I think Keir Starmer really needs to up his game, because no one knows what they stand for,” said Marklew, a communications officer. “All we’re hearing about is the infighting in the Tory party, and Labour are not exploiting that at all and they should be.”
She added: “It feels like the Tories can get away with absolutely everything; people just say we need to move on. It makes me so angry.”
July 19, 2022 at 05:26PM Jessica Murray Midlands correspondent