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Bolsover and the Red Wall—a lot of anger but not much hope

The Labour Party lost the seat of Bolsover in 2019 for the first time ever. People there are furious at the Tories, but already don't trust Keir Starmer, Thomas Foster went to the ex-mining town to see how residents feel about the upcoming election
Issue 2908
Shut down building in Bolsover illustrating an article about the red wall and the general election

Many shops in Bolsover, a Red Wall battleground in the general election, have closed down

Anger and disillusionment. That was the dominant mood in Bolsover in Derbyshire, just east of Chesterfield. Bolsover is a “Red Wall” seat and a former mining village. Labour held it since it was created in 1950, with Dennis Skinner as MP for 49 years.

But the Tories won the seat for the first time in the 2019 general election. The mining pit, Bolsover Colliery, closed in 1993. Bolsover is now a very different place to what it was a generation ago. A once industrial hub is now a quiet town.

Up and down the high street, many of the shops—from boutiques to charity shops and tea rooms—have been shut for years. The population is getting older as younger people gravitate towards the larger cities of Sheffield and Nottingham. In the town, people say hello to each other as they pass. But talking to them tells a story of people wanting change but having very little hope.

Barbara, a shop worker on the high street, voted Tory in 2019. “But I think they’ve let us down. The Tories handled the Covid pandemic awfully and they lied to us. I haven’t got a clue who to vote for anymore,” she told Socialist Worker.

Barbara explained that she voted Tory because she “didn’t like what Labour was saying about Brexit and the second referendum”.

“It wasn’t a democracy where your votes count. We have no control anyway. When I listen to politicians speak about us, they don’t think we are intelligent,” she said.

“The main parties are all out of touch. It’s the lies that get to me. Just tell us the truth.”

Mandy is a warehouse worker. “I voted Tory in 2019 but I’m definitely not going to be voting for them now,” she told Socialist Worker. “They’ve run us into the ground. My husband is off work with a long-term illness and the benefit system stinks.

“I’ve had to come back to work full time because we can’t afford to live otherwise. Warehouse work is very brutal.”

Mandy thinks that Keir Starmer’s Labour “couldn’t be any worse than the Tories”.

“With the cost of living crisis and wages not improving, someone else has to have a go. Labour definitely doesn’t represent working class people, but it at least represents them more than the Tories.”

One of the few benefits of Bolsover is its transport network. It has been dubbed as “the golden triangle” for the distribution industry.

But the storage warehouses built on the old mine sites are dependent on precarious and insecure work, with limited trade union organisation. Migrant workers seeking affordable housing have pumped a new life into the dying town. But work is often temporary so people stay for a short time and then move elsewhere.

Joanna, a health worker on her lunch break, thinks the main problem in Bolsover is “deprivation”. “There is not enough support for ordinary people,” she explained. “There are no services. There are no community centres.

 “Shops are closed. The high street isn’t what it once was. Social care has gone down the pan. It’s only since the Tories got in that this started happening. Decisions are made in Westminster with little thought on how they affect us here. The Tories can’t say they care for people and then take money away—it doesn’t work.”

Joanna said in 2019 “there was general disillusion”. “We gave the Tories a chance, but they’ve failed. We need something new that actually supports workers. We need more investment—more money for public services.”

Phil, a retired teacher, said, “People in Bolsover are struggling. They have to work two jobs to make ends meet and still have to use food banks.

“People saw Boris Johnson as something different in 2019, but still want something different from where we are now. I hope Labour wins. It is more interested in people than Rishi Sunak’s asset stripping bandits.”

But Phil wasn’t fully convinced by Starmer. “If he does win, what we don’t want is more people with their noses in the trough,” he explained. “We don’t want people who pretend to care but are just in it for the cash, like with Tony Blair’s government.

“And when you look at the current government, there are so few that aren’t privately educated. The rich see the poor as an asset to be used—there’s a huge class divide in this country. We want more resources for the majority of people and more taxes on the rich.” 

‘The Tories have ruined this town— and this country’

Anger at the Tories runs high in Bolsover. Ali, a local teacher, told Socialist Worker, “The promise of levelling up came out of Boris Johnson’s mouth. You can make a list of the lies he made. There was never any intention to make it real.

“And I don’t believe that Rishi Sunak could even find Birmingham on a map. If you look back since 2010, everything has fallen apart. The Tories have torn it all to pieces.”

Ali said inequality today “is like the Victorian age”. “Forget about invading other countries, we need more money for education and the NHS.”

College student Khan said if Labour wins the election it “might do things differently”. “I’ve never seen Labour in office, but the Tories have messed this country up beyond belief. The cost of living crisis is a huge issue here. Prices are skyrocketing while parliament is just making itself richer.

“Most conversations politicians have are about cities. I never hear them talk about places like this,” he said. Khan also thinks the Tories are “racist and sexist”. “Sunak’s comments about trans people are awful.” 

Sarah is a support worker who works with children. “I want things to change and people to listen. The Tories aren’t listening—they’ve been taking money off the councils,” she told Socialist Worker.

“A lot of elderly and young people aren’t getting the help they need and the government isn’t doing enough. I see so many mental health issues and anxieties. I feel sad for the country.” Her disillusionment means Sarah may look elsewhere for answers.

“I might vote for Reform UK instead,” she said. “I’m worried about the amount of migration in this country, I think it’s overloading our services. Nobody seems to have a serious plan to tackle it.”

College student Joe disagrees.

“It’s completely untrue to say that migrants are damaging our public services. So many public sector workers are migrants.

“Migrants get barely any government support, so how can they be ‘leeching’ off the system?”

Joe thinks that the Tory vote in 2019 came from desperation. “When the Tories promised to throw a few breadcrumbs at us, we jumped on them. But in reality, we could be having so much more.

“Ordinary people have huge power. The rich are a tiny minority. There’s at least 100 of us for one of them. We can make politicians bend to us if we take to the streets—if we protest and strike.”

No one trusts Labour— past, present or future

Many in Bolsover don’t feel the political affiliations they did in the past. This is compounded by widespread disillusionment with “politics”—and Labour in particular. Labour was shocked to lose control of Bolsover in 2019. If it wins the seat in this election, it will only be because there is no credible alternative.

Disillusionment with Labour runs much deeper than the current leadership. Christopher, who works at a community centre, said, “The problems started with Tony Blair. And now you’ve got Keir Starmer. For a start, his name is Sir.

“He’s not working class even though he tries to throw that card around.” Christopher added, “I’d like a socialist Labour that has its roots in the working class, but it’s gone away from that. I don’t think any party represents the working class. But the Tories have been horrific. I can’t vote for the Tories who look after the rich and themselves.

“I think kicking them out is more important than not voting Labour. We shouldn’t be wasting money on things like the Rwanda bill.

“We need to distribute money better—the government doesn’t put money into the right areas.” But Christopher said the same cycle will happen with a Labour government, “In ten years’ time everyone will be fed up with Labour.

 “Nobody has any faith in politicians whatsoever. I’d like to see an alternative. It could be a Green party who cares about the welfare of people and the planet. Either way I think we need a completely new system. The current parliament doesn’t represent us.”

Stuart, who worked in the Bolsover Colliery for 24 years said, “People have seen through the Tories because of Partygate. We sat there, unable to see our loved ones or go to funerals and they were partying down in Westminster. It was a disgrace.”

Although he doesn’t think Starmer is the best leader, “We must have an alternative to the current government,” Stuart said. “I want to give the local Labour candidate and Starmer a chance. But I don’t know if he will be able to turn it around. Labour and the Tories seem to have agreed to force through cuts and they’ve both profited out of it.”

At the nearby Sports Direct headquarters and warehouse, workers poured out into the car park after a shift change. Patrick, who has worked at the warehouse for six years, said, “I have been a Labour supporter my whole life. But I think workers need to be looked after better.

“At the warehouse, people are on low wages while the company makes loads of profit. They should be paying more wages, and overtime rates and holiday days should be increased. Workers put the breakfast on the bosses’ table and need to be rewarded more.”

One local resident told Socialist Worker they may not even vote at all. “They all say things that they will do when they get in, but then it never happens. Look at the NHS blood scandal or the post office scandal. The Tories haven’t done anything since winning the seat here.

“There aren’t childcare facilities here anymore. There are barely any care homes left. What remains is overstretched and underpaid. We need to dissolve parliament and start all over again. Our system doesn’t work.”

Barbara echoed this, “The Tories made these promises about levelling up but didn’t fulfil any of them. What’s the point?” she asked.

“And Labour is saying that it might have to make more cuts. What is it going to cut? There’s nothing left. We have cut enough.”

The people of Bolsover know their needs won’t be met by Labour. There’s already a sense of growing disillusionment and potential rebellion against Starmer. But whether people are won to the left, or shift rightwards, is yet to be decided.

Thanks to Aubrey Evans

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