Eyes turning to bellweather Swindon as voters favour Labour over Tories

·3-min read
Heidi Alexander and Keir Starmer visit Nationwide <i>(Image: Labour Party)</i>
Heidi Alexander and Keir Starmer visit Nationwide (Image: Labour Party)

The eyes of the political world are turning increasingly towards Swindon ahead of local elections in May and a general election at some point before January 2025.

The town’s reputation as a bellwether and voting for the winning party in a general election means the responses and views of its voters are being scrutinised for clues as to how the country will vote.

Specialist company More in Common held a focus group for the Guardian newspaper in the constituency held by the Conservative former cabinet minister Sir Robert Buckland – and the results will make happier reading for his opponent, Labour’s Heidi Alexander, though the deal has not yet been sealed.

The Guardian reports that the members of the panel, to whom it refers only by first name and age, were not hugely moved by the recent budget, with the expansion of funding for nursery places for pre-schoolers.

It quotes Michelle, a 53-year-old health administrative worker as wondering whether there would be enough nurseries still open by the time the policy comes into force and Jackie, an accountant aged 52, as saying: “Nurseries have struggled through Covid, nobody went to nursery so they closed down.

"Electricity prices have gone up, wages have gone up, I just think it’s all a bit, too little, too late really. But it sounds good.

"It keeps the public happy until you look further behind the announcement and then you see when it’s coming in. Where do you find a nursery if they’re all closing?”

Ant, 40, said the government is not choosing to fund the NHS or help people with rising costs, especially energy prices: “There’s enough money in government to cover all these issues. It’s just how they choose to spend it.

"I think HS2 is nearing a trillion pounds. There’s enough money to solve the [energy bills crisis].”

A 65 year-old man Phil, described as a lifelong Tory voter was impressed by Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves who has made two recent visits to Swindon. He said: “She comes across as competent and far better than previous shadow chancellors, and she presents Labour as being far more competent financially than they have been in the past.”

But he’s not so sure about Sir Keir Starmer: “He doesn’t come up with any ideas does he? He’s got plenty of ammunition to criticise given the performance of the government over the last few years, but I don’t hear any real ideas about how they’re going to improve things in the future.”

Although the focus group said they weren’t swayed by Conservative attempts to woo them back, they also expressed concern that a Labour government would indulge “people-pleasing” by “throwing cash at everybody”, especially since some felt there wasn’t enough money in the economy for Labour to be able to fix problems simply by spending more.

But Keir Starmer struck Fleur, 24 as “compassionate and passionate” and she was not alone in disliking the recently introduced Illegal Immigration Bill – saying: ”It’s all quite negative, unworkable and they’re just inciting hatred.”

Conleth Burns, senior associate at More in Common UK, said recent initiatives were not “cutting it for the voters we spoke to in South Swindon".

“The government might have hoped that the last few weeks would have jump-started the Tories’ electoral recovery, but this group in Swindon shows that any real recovery is a long way off," she added.

“In fact, many of this group thought Labour could’ve done a better job with the budget, and almost all agreed that Labour wouldn’t have done a worse job.”