Martin Wells, a psychotherapist from Bristol, admitted he had not voted for a while. “I’ve been Labour all my life but I fell out of the habit of voting. I think I had just lost interest in all politicians.”
But then came the 2015 general election, Brexit and the triumph of Donald Trump. “It made me sit up and think.” Wells plans to back Labour this time. “I like Jeremy Corbyn. He makes me feel more optimistic. I will vote for him.”
It was easy to find love – or admiration and sympathy at least - for the Labour leader in Bristol West on Thursday.
This is a constituency of contrasts. Wells was walking his dog, Sonny, in leafy Clifton, just down the road from Brunel’s magnificent suspension bridge. But the seat also includes some of Bristol’s deprived and bohemian neighbourhoods – places such as Easton, which is home to artists, eco-warriors, dreamers and a good many people struggling to eke out a living.
It is ethnically diverse. People of African Caribbean and Asian descent whose families have been here for many decades rub shoulders with more recent arrivals such as Somalis. There is also a significant student population.
Labour holds three of the four “Bristol proper” seats including Bristol West, which it pinched from the Liberal Democrats in 2015. The Lib Dems were pushed into third by the Greens, who will target the seat again this time. The city’s directly-elected mayor, Marvin Rees, is also Labour.
None of this is to say that Bristol is in the bag for Corbyn’s party. At the Focus on the Past antiques emporium in Clifton, worker Kate Baker said she had always voted Labour. “But I’m going to vote for Theresa May this time. I think she has integrity. I think she knows what she wants and will do it. Brexit is going to be awful. She will give us some stability.”
She is not against Corbyn. “I like him, actually, but I don’t think many in his party do and that’s a problem.”
Jordan Barker, a 19-year-old second-year student in English and philosophy at Bristol University and first-time voter, said he would probably plump for Labour. “Anything to keep the Tories out really.”
What about if that meant voting for the Lib Dems? “I could do that.” He has forgiven the party for the tuition fees disaster that cost them the votes of students here and across the UK two years ago. “I don’t bear a grudge. I think we have to move on.”
When he is told that the Greens were targeting Bristol West and strongly believe they could win the seat, Barker concedes that he might even vote for them. “I think everything has been shaken up. I think a lot of people will be voting for parties they haven’t voted for before.”
There seem to be a lot of flexible voters in Bristol West.
Richard, an accountant who had just bought his daily loaf from the East Bristol Bakery on St Mark’s Road in Easton, voted Green at the last local election. “I think there is a strong green movement which is worth supporting.” Like most of Bristol he voted remain in the EU referendum. That does not mean, however, that the Lib Dems’ clear message on Europe means they will get his vote.
“I will listen to the arguments carefully. And I’m not dismissing Labour. I think Jeremy Corbyn unfairly gets a bad press.”
The voters have a lot on their plates here. On top of the general election, there is a metro mayor to be elected.
Lesley Mansell, Labour’s candidate for the West of England job, said the announcement of a snap election had invigorated her efforts rather than detracted from them. “The calling of the general election has fired up my campaign by getting more people out on the streets, determined to see the back of the Tories,” she said.
For some, it is all too much. Ali, an Easton barber, laughed loud and long when asked if he was taking an interest in the general election. “There are too many elections round here. You just see the signs taken down about one and the next one comes along. They’re all about propping up the powerful, not the likes of us down here. I’m not interested in any of it.”