Leigh has been a fearsome Labour stronghold for nearly 100 years and even Conservative candidate James Grundy expected to “lose with dignity”. Now he’s the local MP. Are his constituents as shocked as he is?
It’s been Labour since 1922 and was Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham’s constituency for 16 years, the man many preferred ahead of Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership.
Numbering a lowly 132 on the Conservatives’ list of targets, Leigh was one of the strongest bricks in the the so-called “red wall” of Labour safe seats.
It’s fair to say no-one really predicted Leigh turning blue.
However, Mr Grundy became the constituency’s new MP after securing a 1,965 majority, with a 12% swing to the party.
There was little expectation of such a seismic switch, so trying to make sense of why the former mill town has turned Tory has been a puzzle for commentators – and even for Mr Grundy.
“I came here tonight expecting to lose with dignity, rather than head down to London tomorrow,” he said. “I suppose I’m going to have to think on my feet about what I’m going to do.”
Yet, for most of the town’s residents, the result was less of a surprise.
‘I’m a Remainer but voted Tory’
Greengrocer Dave West voted Conservative, despite voting remain in the referendum and expecting his business costs to rise if Britain leaves the EU.
However, he wants to see more local investment and said he felt “ignored” by the previous MP, Labour’s Jo Platt.
“I never even saw [her]. People have had enough. I’ve never seen so many people going in to vote in my life.
“I don’t want to leave the EU because my lorry drivers will be in queues and much of my produce is from Spain and France, but I still voted Conservative because of everything else.
“My decision was based on local issues.”
‘I’m hoping for big change’
Gail Robinson, who runs a delicatessen stall, was also influenced by local issues and said she was proud to have ticked the Tory box for the first time.
The 46-year-old said she “didn’t want Labour in anymore”.
“All the funding just goes to Wigan. The MP talked a lot of gibberish.
“Andy Burnham did a lot for Leigh and I had more confidence in him, but not since then.
“I’m really hoping that there’s going to be a big change.
“I think that many people have just got to a point where they want to get things moving.”
‘A big shock’
Fifty-five-year-old Julie Riding, who runs a gift card stall in the town’s market, was on the fence as she approached the polling station and ended up spoiling her ballot paper.
“I took an online survey and it did say to vote Labour, but I just couldn’t do it,” she said.
“Jeremy Corbyn, I just don’t like him.
“I did like Boris before, but now he seems to be a bit of a buffoon.
“Still, it’s a big shock. The people of Leigh have always voted Labour. But they see market stalls and businesses closing down and perhaps they just trust Boris more with business.”
‘We’ve waited a long time for this’
Not everyone in Leigh has simply changed allegiances from red to blue.
William and Wendy Seddon have lived in Leigh all their lives and have always voted Conservative.
Mrs Seddon said the result was “absolutely fantastic”.
“We’ve had to fight hard and wait a long time, but it’s just great news,” she said.
“We want more money put into the NHS and investment and reinvestment in the town. Everything has always focussed on [neighbouring] Wigan.”
The retired childminder said while she understood the NHS and investment in northern towns were key elements of Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign, she felt he never explained where he was “going to get the money from”.
Her husband, a retired HGV driver, said electing Labour “would’ve cost us”.
“All they wanted to do is tax us. We’ve had to fight to get what we’ve wanted, but now hopefully things will change.”
‘It felt logical to vote Tory’
Police officer Dave Trownson, 42, has supported Labour all his life but turned to the Conservatives out of frustration at the long Brexit impasse.
“It’s a massive Labour area and it always has been, but it didn’t feel strange for me to vote Conservative – it just felt like the logical thing to do.
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“People want to get Brexit done and move on, and they were the only people offering that. I feel optimistic. We are Great Britain, we are a strong country and a powerful country.
“I voted to leave but no-one’s wanted to take us out apart from Boris. Corbyn was too on the fence.”
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