Stunning UK election result no surprise in Labour bastion

Telegram från AFP / Omni
13 dec 2019, 18.00

The biggest shock of Britain's general election was one of the first results, when the Blyth Valley constituency in northeast England -- a staunch Labour heartland -- turned Conservative.

The result would have been unimaginable during the industrial decline of the 1980s, which made Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher a hate figure in the working class area.

But Thursday's result was no surprise to shoppers and traders on the windswept streets of Blyth, a town built on shipbuilding and coal on the North Sea coast near Newcastle.

Voters felt Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservatives offered an end to their frustrations over Brexit not being delivered more than three years after Britain opted to leave the European Union.

At the same time, they were unable to warm to Labour main opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn's brand of metropolitan socialism and pledge to hold another referendum on EU membership.

Ronnie Campbell, a former coal miner who stepped down as the Labour MP for Blyth Valley after 32 years this month, was a vocal eurosceptic.

"I've voted Labour all my life," market trader Colin Spottswood, 65, said on Friday. "It was Brexit that swung it because I was just fed up.

"The country seems to have been undecided for three years. Now, at least, hopefully the country can move on," he told AFP.

The constituency had been Labour ever since its creation way back in 1950, when northeast England was still one of the engine rooms of the British economy.

But Ian Levy's stunning early win for the Conservatives set the tone for the sweeping victory that followed. In the end, Johnson won an 80-seat majority in the 650-seat House of Commons.

The result typified the way Brexit-backing, working-class areas of northern England that were considered rock-solid Labour seats abandoned the party.

Elsewhere in the northeast, where communities are still struggling to recover from pit closures under Thatcher in the 1980s, constituencies turned from red to blue.

Levy took 43 percent of the vote, with the Labour candidate on 41 percent and the Brexit Party third on eight percent, having scooped up former Labour votes.

While Johnson repeatedly pledged to "get Brexit done" by January 31, Corbyn vowed to hold another referendum, in a bid to keep anti-Brexit voters on board in London and other cities.

"It's the happiest day of my life!" said Dave Stephenson, a retired joiner, born and bred in Blyth, who remains light on his feet at 81.

"It's the best thing that's ever happened. Look at the state of Blyth. It was a lovely little town but everything's closing down.

"I changed my vote a while ago. I started voting Brexit Party but for this one I voted Conservative because I want Brexit done.

"Labour have let the people of Blyth down. I couldn't stand Corbyn. I just don't like the man. It's time we had a change and time Brexit was done."

The Christmas tree is up in Blyth's freezing market square, where a handful of stalls sell lighters, camouflage gear, flowers, crossword books and bed linen.

The smell of fish and chips drifts across the granite-paved square, surrounded by rows of red-brick terraced houses and overflown by seagulls.

"I'm over the moon," said market trader Peter Gough, 59.

"I've voted Labour all my life. But Jeremy Corbyn's policies, I didn't like them, I didn't trust the man so I've voted Conservative."

Housewife Dana Harvey, 35, added: "Everyone's voted on wanting to be out because we've decided that long ago: that we want to be out of the EU."

Market trader Ron Coltman, 71, in between selling Christmas cards, said he had voted Conservative -- and did not see Blyth switching back any time soon.

"It wasn't a surprise. Basically, nobody likes Mr Corbyn," he said.

"I've talked to all my customers; the general feeling is the Conservatives will have to do really bad over the next five years, or they'll be in for a long time."