Political constituency focus: People in Leeds North West have their say on the vital issues
The political landscape in the UK seems unrecognisable from 2010, and nowhere is this shift better encapsulated than in Leeds Northwest.
A former Lib Dem stronghold, the seat was held for many years by MP Greg Mulholland. His high watermark came in the 2010 election when, during the “Clegg-mania” phenomenon, he chalked up a hefty 9,103 majority, beating the Labour candidate – future council leader Judith Blake – into third place.
As the Lib Dems’ national polling plummeted, so did Mulholland’s majority until, in 2017, the seat was won by Alex Sobel for a resurgent Labour Party.
But the Lib Dems still managed to hold onto more than a third of the vote in this seat back in 2017, so they will still see Leeds North West as a top target.
I decided to visit the constituency myself to get a feel from voters as to what they care about in this election.
A personal confession: I recently lost my house keys. Luckily my partner donated me hers with the instruction that I must get replacements, so it only felt natural that I should begin my journey at Steves Shoe Repairs & Key Cutting in Otley Road (other key cutters are available!).
Steve Joyce has worked in Headingley for 20 years, and has witnessed first hand the changing lights when it comes to retail.
As someone who would normally be described as a “swing voter” at general elections, Steve is among the voters Jeremy Corbyn will have to convince if he wants to enter Number 10.
Cutting my key with a look of meticulous concentration, he told me over the buzz of the machine: “It’s left me on the fence. It would normally be a toss-up between Labour and Conservatives, but now I don’t really know.
“I don’t trust Corbyn,” he said. “Just on all sorts of things.”
“I want politicians to help the high street – it’s been in decline for a while and it’s hard with central government taking business rates off smaller businesses.”
He claimed many businesses in his area were having to pay rates of more than £10,000 per year.
“We need to get on with Brexit,” he added. “Don’t drag it on – it’s been hanging over us and we need it sorting out.”
Steve’s friend, car park attendant Gary Wright, said that a lack of visible policing on the streets was leading to higher crime.
“There is not enough policing,” he added. “It’s getting worse. There needs to be visible police. PCSOs act as a deterrent, but they can’t do anything.”
The seat itself is an interesting mix of urban and rural. From the bustling streets of Headingley and its mix of students and young families, to the quiet rural areas around Otley, Yeadon and Wharfedale.
Constituent Ailith Harley-Roberts works for Sunshine and Smiles, a charity that helps children and families living with Down Syndrome.
“I will definitely be voting for a Labour government,” she said. “I feel they have a level of care for the people who are not able to access support, services or work.
“Sure start centres have been closed and public services are struggling.”
I meet greengrocer Jonathan Nash carrying a huge box of bananas, but when I asked him his thoughts on the upcoming election, he was only too keen to talk.
“We are having a Brexit election,” he said. “And it’s a two-party race if you live round here.
“I think people are voting around their opinion on Brexit. The NHS is the last straw – it is the only thing left. We live in a corporate UK, so if we leave the EU, I worry we will become a tax haven.
“The centrist Labour party is now in the past – it was closer to the Conservatives than to the modern Labour Party.
“It’s interesting because it’s all about how the country moves forward. If we are going to be a wealthy country, we need to figure out how to do it without hoarding wealth between small numbers of people.”
But how do people feel about the campaigns?
Liz Yeomans, 60, said she is jaded with the way in which this election has been presented by the media.
“The debates have become a bit of a game show,” she said. “We have American style debates. The way it’s presented is like two people in a boxing ring.”
The candidates contesting the Leeds North West seat in the 2019 General Election:
Alex Sobel (Labour and Co-operative Party)*
Martin Hemingway (Green Party)
Kamran Hussain (Liberal Democrats)
Stewart Harper (Conservative)
Graeme Alan Webber (Brexit Party)