Luton has suffered under Tory rule. Despite that, the party is hoping to take the town from the Labour Party in the general election.
Both the Luton South and Luton North constituencies are on the Tories’ hit list of top 100 seats to win.
But there's every reason to think Labour can win.
People in the Bedfordshire town are angry about how austerity is wrecking their lives.
Lisa told Socialist Worker, “There’s been a lot of changes in education. The teaching assistants have been cut.
“My son who’s autistic relies on the TAs so now he’s going to suffer.”
Jackie, another Luton resident, asked, “What are they doing about the NHS?”
“My husband had an appointment at the hospital in June,” she explained to Socialist Worker. “It was then cancelled twice and now the earliest they can do is November this year.
“It’s to do with cataracts—he needs it done because he drives for work.”
There’s plenty of anger, but disillusionment dominates many people’s understanding of politics.
“None of the people running stand out,” said Jackie. “MPs don’t seem to serve the general population.”
“They work for themselves and they’re all affiliated to different companies. How did George Osborne get those jobs after he stopped being chancellor? That’s because he already had them.”
Luton was hit hard by Tory policies in the 1980s, with the gradual loss of jobs in its once large automotive industry.
Some 37,000 people worked at Vauxhall’s Griffin plant in the 1960s. The workforce now stands at just 900.
The unemployment rate in Luton is officially 10.3 percent—that’s higher than England’s 8.2 percent.
Tom, a pensioner, remembers when “it used to be a good town.
“You had jobs with Vauxhall but not so much any more,” he told Socialist Worker. “There are no opportunities for younger people—I wouldn’t want to stay here.”
This sort of anger is what fuelled support for Brexit in Luton, which voted by 56 percent to Leave the European Union (EU) last June.
Some people said they are backing Theresa May because she was in favour of Brexit. But if Labour can pull this mood to the left, it can beat the Tories.
While many of Labour’s policies would benefit working class people in Luton, many do not see an alternative on offer.
Lisa said she would “like someone who’s looking out for education”, but didn’t think anyone was.
Tom added, “Politicians like Jeremy Corbyn say that they’re going to make it better for people, but it’s all talk, talk, talk.
“The fact they don’t change things has to be addressed.”
This deep distrust of politicians and Labour isn’t down to Corbyn, but has been built up by years of betrayals.
Imran, a Labour supporter from Luton, told Socialist Worker, “It’s been hard being in the Labour Party during the last few years. But things are looking up, because I think there’s the germs of leadership in Jeremy Corbyn.”
At the Unite union offices regional officers Richard and Jeff were excited by Corbyn’s policies that were in the leaked manifesto.
“During the last election I went around canvassing and people said there isn’t a cigarette paper between the parties,” Richard told Socialist Worker.
“Now you couldn’t have more differences between them.”
Jeff added, “Two years ago during the last election I was a workplace rep. I found it really difficult going round asking people to vote Labour, because it was all austerity-lite. I wish I had these policies back then.”
Putting out radical policies can help Labour.
But to shift the experience of years of betrayal and decline in towns such as Luton, it will take convincing people that change is possible.
It will also take more than getting out on the doorstep to do this.
Richard said, “Jeremy Corbyn came to Luton about a year ago and spoke at the university with lots of people. If he came again and spoke in St George’s Square, I’m sure it would be packed to the rafters.”
Not in the bag for anyone
The Tories have drawn up a list of constituencies to target in the general election. Both Luton North and Luton South are on the list.
The statistics below show that the Tories have their work cut out. If Labour puts out a positive message then it can push them back.
- Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins
- Labour majority in 2015 of 9,504 or 22.3 percent
- Labour vote of 22,243 in 2015
- 3 percent increase on 2010
- Tory vote of 12,739 or 29.9 percent in 2015
- Leave vote in EU referendum 56.29 percent
- Labour MP Gavin Shuker
- Labour majority in 2015 of 5,711 or 13.5 percent
- Labour vote of 18,660 in 2015
- 9.3 percent increase on 2010
- Tory vote of 12,949 or 30.7 percent in 2015
- Leave vote in EU referendum 53.07 percent