Campaign frontline: In Weaver Vale, the Tories might outspend Labour but the party won’t be outworked

In a series of reports from the frontline, Uncut looks at what’s happening on the ground. Kevin Meagher visited Weaver Vale, a seat Labour needs to win to form a government

Tidy stone walls and trimmed high hedges in glorious summer colours frame the journey on the road in to Weaver Vale. Interspersed are rows of pretty terraces with brightly-painted doors and big, detached properties with spacious gardens. Every now and then there are hand-written signs hung over gates or staked in the ground advertising ‘New Cheshire Potatoes’ from local farms.

Then the lettering above an old road sign brings it home: ‘Vale Royal Borough’. The previous name for this part of Cheshire, before the old county and district councils were scrapped to create two new unitaries a decade ago.

Cheshire is not ‘the North’ as many would recognise it. A collection of attractive and often very prosperous market towns and villages set in lush farmland and countryside. It is a beautiful part of the country and far more affluent than Greater Manchester to its north and Merseyside to its west, serving as a hinterland for the well-heeled who work in either.

But the county also has odd bits of heavy industry like the giant Ineos chemicals site that seems to take an eternity to pass driving along the M56. And there are still reliable urban redoubts for Labour. Towns like Warrington and Runcorn and Widnes remain safe bets.

Weaver Vale is an amalgam of these two Cheshires, incorporating the smart market towns of Frodsham and Northwich as well as the eastern part of Runcorn. Labour has always had a decent base in Cheshire and held this seat easily enough between 1997 and 2010. Even in 2015, the Conservative majority here was only 806.

I’m here to meet Labour’s candidate, Mike Amesbury, a recent veteran of Andy Burnham’s successful mayoral campaign and a former adviser to Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner.

Along with some committed local activists, he is spearheading a genuine grassroots effort to retake the seat and his Facebook feed shows large clusters of activists out with him every day. Without the same number of volunteers, the Tories are spending money on newspaper wraparounds. Although Labour will be outspent in seats like this, Amesbury is clear he will not be outworked.

The key issue here is turnout. Labour has the votes, with Mike Hall holding the seat for Labour until 2010. As I drive around the seat, I can see Labour posters dotted around but there is little sense that Conservative incumbent, Graham Evans, has much resonance locally. It feels like Weaver Vale it is there for the taking.

The doorstep issues are a mixture of the familiar national themes and the hyper-local. The smart Helsby High School that I see on the drive in has just been hit with a £700,000 funding cut. The nearby Countess of Chester Hospital is facing a downgrading of its services and voters repeatedly tell Amesbury it’s a ‘nightmare’ trying to get an appointment with a GP.

The prospect of fracking companies gaining licenses to drill is also a genuine concern here. One of the biggest bones of contention, though, remains the bridge toll for crossing the River Mersey. Despite Tory promises to scrap the charge, they have never got around to it.

On the campaign trail, Amesbury is getting a positive response. He came across a young first time voter who had set up a Facebook group with her friends to discuss the election. Seventy of them had joined it. She was enthused by Jeremy Corbyn and Labour’s offer on restoring the educational maintenance allowance and abolishing university tuition fees.

At least with the young, the message is getting through. ‘Young people have been the target of cuts for longer,’ Amesbury points out. ‘They should now be the target for investment.’ This emphasis on galvanising young people was a successful theme from Burnham’s Greater Manchester campaign. Amesbury hopes it will play well here too.

Beneath the headlines of the national opinion polls, it is clear this election is about micro-trends. In 2015, UKIP took 9.7 per cent of the vote here – some 4,500 votes. With no candidate standing this time, will their votes transfer straight to the Tories?

On the way out of our interview, a young woman approaches Amesbury who is sporting a Labour rosette. Lauren is planning to vote Labour and is delighted to meeting the candidate. She works in a clerical role in the NHS and is concerned about budget cuts and tells of her struggles in trying to get a deposit together to buy a house. Again, she is enthusiastic about Labour – genuinely so.

Whatever the result here, its clear Labour still has skin in the game in seats like Weaver Vale and there is certainly something to build on in the medium term. For now, though, Mike Amesbury is working flat out to change its destiny in the short term.

‘Idealism’s never a bad thing is it?’ he says.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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6 Responses to “Campaign frontline: In Weaver Vale, the Tories might outspend Labour but the party won’t be outworked”

  1. paul barker says:

    This series of pieces visiting “marginal ” Seats strike me as a bit dishonest. These Seats would be marginal if Labour were around 7% behind but you arent; currently Labour are 11% behind, making these fairly safe Tory Seats, as of now.
    The real marginals are elsewhere.
    I cant help suspect that Meagher is more interested in the Internal Labour fight after June 8th than in saving Labour MPs.

  2. The polls are narrowing and even on a day to day basis it is the Tories that are worried and Labour relatively comfortable. However the bias in the system is still towards the Tories, though annoying pensioners was not a good move.

    The days of uniform swings are however over and while the youth issue is still the key one, under participation in the 18-40 age group is the key problem, the break down in the two party system makes any predictions foolish. I suspect the main reason May cut and ran was the sense they could take over the UKIP vote. Whether the Lib Dems and greens will also collapse in Labour;s favour is totally unknown.

    So the exercise is worth doing, but there are while there are too many variables to make a lot of sense, the clear state of play at the moment is that Labour vote is holding up, and the small parties are the key in many seats. A pity Labour lost votes in every election after 1997 which was the fault of New Labour

    Trevor Fisher
    Trevor Fisher

  3. Jo says:

    BLAIRITES! Discover the socialist within you and support Labour. Keynesianism isn’t extreme or unrealistic. It’s groovy and cool!

  4. Tafia says:

    Trevor Fisher, you are behind the curve matey. The Labour ‘surge’ is over and probably didn’t actually happen to start with.

    The last 5 polls (bar the latest today), by date of research, show 10.2% average Con/Lab gap. Con average 44.6%, Lab 34.4%.

    The previous 5 polls had an average gap of 7.4%. Con average 43.6%, Lab 36.2%.

    Very latest poll, released this afternoon for the Guardian has Con 45%, Lab 33%

  5. buttley says:

    A friend of mine received an election flyer, by post from Iain McNicol Gen Sec etc.

    The contents were essentially a smear leaflet on Tim Farron, nothing in it about Labour.

    Anybody know if this a national mailer?

    Don’t get me wrong, i do agree, Farron is a weirdy, but its not McNicol’s place to point that out.

    Very poor.

  6. Ruth Ann Douglas says:

    I live in Northwich which is in the Weaver Vale area but I have yet to receive one leaflet from any of the parties apart from the Tories nor have I seen any posters up for any party or anyone canvassing. This is a very marginal seat but does Northwich not count? What is going on?

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