Southport is at the heart of this general election but residents already know what has to change

Pete Nilsson outside Southport Train Station
-Credit: (Image: LDRS)

"I'm a little bit nervous of the Labour Party" says Tim Horrocks, 73 as he contemplates the forthcoming general election.

"Labour has much stronger support in the town now. I used to vote Labour, but I'm not sure they have the calibre of individuals to take the country forward."

Tim is sitting on a bench on Lord Street in Southport, enjoying the sunshine and eating his lunch. He has lived in the town for over 32 years and has always known Southport to vote for either the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats.

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Southport was represented for much of this century by Liberal Democrat, John Pugh until the Tories won the seat in 2017 with Damien Moore and retained it in 2019 with an increased majority. However, polling for the 2024 general election suggests Labour have a very strong chance of taking this seat from the Tories and dethroning Mr Moore.

Tim considers himself a swing voter and tends to vote on the policies rather than having any particular party affiliation. As if to prove this, Tim points to his voting record in May's local elections when he voted for a Labour mayor, a Conservative police commissioner and a Liberal Democrat councillor. However, he believes the focus for general elections should be on national concerns and said the one issue which chimes nicely with this principle in Southport is the state of the economy.

Southport Pier has been closed since 2022
Southport Pier has been closed since 2022 -Credit:LDRS

Historically, Southport has relied heavily on its pleasure pier which has been a huge part of the town's success in attracting visitors. For many local residents and business owners, the 2022 closure of Southport pier has had a profound impact on the town - the effects of which are becoming more visible as time goes by.

Tim regularly visited the pier and it was the first place he would take family and friends when they came to visit him. He said: "The pier is an icon in the town and it's a wonderful pier.

"When people come to Southport, they expect it to be open. The pier's closure has affected the rest of the town which now feels slightly depressed and I think we need lifting up in some way."

The challenges are stark for whatever government claims power in early July and for Southport, the stakes are high. For some local residents, the town's problems have become a microcosm for a greater malaise.

View of a run down and deprived Cambridge Arcade
View of a run down and deprived Cambridge Arcade -Credit:LDRS

It's clear when meeting people in the town centre, there is little sense of apathy, people do care about politics and some passionately so, but they simply have no faith in the political leadership on offer.

Carol Price, 79, has lived in Southport all her life and been retired for the last 20 years. Carol worked as a nurse in the NHS and healthcare is one of her main concerns going into this election. She said: "Until people see it...until people actually visit a hospital or a drop-in centre, they won't know just how bad it's got."

The changes to the town centre are more visible. Like many high streets across the country, the sight of boarded up, empty shops and 'closing down' signs are now commonplace in Southport. Carol said: "It's appalling and just so sad to see.

"Lord Street which is very badly run down and Chapel Street has gone down hill as well. People used to come from miles around because it was really nice."

'Closing Down' signs put up in Beales Department Store
'Closing Down' signs put up in Beales Department Store -Credit:LDRS

Asked whether there's anything to be hopeful or optimistic about, Carol said: "No. I don't have any faith in any of the main parties.

"We're in such a mess now that it's going to take an awful lot of work just to get back to previous standards."

A recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) suggested the next government will struggle to find the financial resources to reduce the national debt and free up money for increased investment in public services. The IFS forecast there will be lower GDP growth and higher debt interest spending - the worst of both worlds - and indicated things have 'never been so bad'.

Pete Nilsson is someone very active in the community and a well-known, popular figure. He believes radical policies are needed to improve the country and cites historical privatisation as the source for many of the nation's ills. Pete would like to see one of the main political parties advocate for investment in infrastructure and the renationalisation of water and rail. He said: "It's a no brainer. Public services are in an awful state.

"There's a feeling that everything is run down these days and nothing seems to be working.

"Just look at Southport. It's become just another run down seaside town. People come for the pier and see it's closed down. Will they come back? For the sake of Southport, I hope so but it will require huge investment."

Sandy Marshall, moved to Southport 12 years ago
Sandy Marshall, moved to Southport 12 years ago -Credit:LDRS

Pete is not alone is expressing big ideas and challenging the parties to be braver in their policy decisions - they are sentiments heard time and time again. Nonetheless, general elections are about both the macro and the micro and there are plenty of hyper-local issues at play in the Southport constituency.

Sandy Marshall, moved to Southport 12 years ago and believes the decline of the town can be seen on almost every street corner. She said: "Potholes are horrendous on the side roads where I live, dog muck and litter are the more visual and immediate things but they speak to a wider failure.

"I want to know what it costs to get things right. We're grown-ups, be honest with us and tell us you need to raise taxes and we can all decide whether we want that or not."

The value of honesty is a sentiment shared by Steven Pearce, 66 who would like to see plain speaking about the issues. He said: "We need more hospitals, more schools, more police, more bus routes and less potholes.

Steven has lived in Southport for approximately four years
Steven has lived in Southport for approximately four years -Credit:LDRS

"I'm getting on now and there's the huge issue of social care. For me, funding is not the main issue for the NHS, it's also wise to look at how the money is being spent."

All eyes will be on Southport on July 4 as voters go to the polls and determine which party will govern for the next five years. If there is to be a change of government, then Labour has to win back much of the 'red wall' it lost in 2019 , but it will also need to make significant inroads into traditional Conservative constituencies like Southport.

For Rishi Sunak's Tories, winning in places like Southport could go a long way to avoiding the 'super majority' Labour government which could see them lose power for a generation.

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