world : 'We're seen as a dead-end fishing town to them'

Wednesday 12 June 2024 10:54 PM

Nafeza 2 world - Image caption,

The Conservative battle bus visits Grimsby

Kevin Shoesmith

BBC News

Reporting from

in Grimsby

Both the Conservatives and Labour took their election campaigns to Grimsby on Wednesday. At the last vote in 2019, the town turned blue for the first time since World War Two.

On leaving, the Conservatives' battle bus got a green light. But will it be Rishi Sunak or Sir Keir Starmer who get the one that really matters on 4 July when voters here head to the polls?

BBC News sought reaction to the visits from the locals.

In his pristine back garden overlooking John Whitgift Academy, where Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has dropped in on his election trail, Barry Maddison glances at a windchime.

The bamboo tubes are clattering.

"Politicians change with the wind," he quips. "They say one thing and do the opposite."

The 79-year-old adds "they make a lot of noise". He doesn't make clear if he is talking about windchimes or not.

However, he later tells me, so far in this election campaign all he is hearing is "noise".

Barry Maddison in his Grimsby gardenImage source, Kevin Shoesmith/BBC
Image caption,

Barry Maddison's house backs on to John Whitgift Academy, the school picked by Rishi Sunak for his visit

Mr Sunak's visit to the school was closely controlled by aides, with those unconnected with the school unable to meet him.

Peering over his garden fence, Mr Maddison is unable to hide his disappointment.

"Rishi Sunak can go where he wants," he says. "But I do think the general public should have been allowed in. I have a few things I'd like to say to him."

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak takes part in a science lesson during a visit to John Whitgift Academy in GrimsbyImage source, Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Image caption,

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak taking part in a science lesson during his visit to John Whitgift Academy

On his fence is a plaque in memory of "Annie Babe" - a sweet tribute to his late wife. Family values matter to him.

"The NHS also matters to me," says the retired merchant navy and NHS cook. "I want whoever gets in to sort that out. It's in a mess. The NHS is the most wonderful thing in the world."

At the last vote, the Conservatives took what was then Great Grimsby after decades of the constituency being under Labour control.

Mr Maddison says he is a "working class man", has only ever voted Labour and will do so again on 4 July.

But he is not prepared to write a blank cheque to Labour leader Sir Keir, who is also in town.

"My message to both of them is 'Just tell us the truth'," he says. "If both parties need to put up taxes to sort things like the NHS out, just be honest about it. Explain to people why."

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Turning into the school's long drive, Mr Sunak and his aides could not have missed a large pole bearing military flags in front of a house belonging to Julie Ward, 59.

Traditionally, the Conservatives have enjoyed support from the Armed Forces community.

However, Mrs Ward says she and her husband, who served with the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, "can't stand Rishi".

Julie Ward next to her flagpoleImage source, Kevin Shoesmith/BBC
Image caption,

Julie Ward says she will be voting for Reform UK

Mrs Ward, who had not noticed the Conservatives' campaign bus and police outriders, tells me: "We're voting Reform UK. The Conservatives don't look after veterans."

She believes politicians treat Grimsby with disdain and visit only when it suits their agenda.

"We're seen as a dead-end fishing town to them," she adds.

Up the road, I find Freda Terry, 80, in her front garden, tending to her begonias. She is unsure which party she will vote for.

"I do think Labour will win Grimsby back," she says, citing dissatisfaction at what she perceives to be the "eyesore" town centre which is "full of boarded-up shops and paint splatters".

She adds: "Whoever gets in needs to sort the NHS."

Freda TerryImage source, Kevin Shoesmith/BBC
Image caption,

Freda Terry says "you only see politicians at election time"

Earlier, two miles away, Labour leader Sir Keir talked with staff and students at Grimsby Institute. That visit, too, was tightly controlled.

My colleague Sarah Sanderson tells me that while the media stood behind a barrier, awaiting their interviews, Sir Keir met tutors and students in a workshop where they train on vehicles. The visit appeared to go to plan.

He was joined by Melanie Onn, the Labour candidate for Great Grimsby and Cleethorpes.

At John Whitgift Academy, journalists were not allowed to follow Mr Sunak's tour around the school, but we were told he went into two classrooms, where he met teachers and students and was warmly received. He was joined by Conservative candidate Lia Nici.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer visits Grimsby InstituteImage source, Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Image caption,

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer visiting Grimsby Institute

Waiting at a bus stop near Grimsby Institute, Robert Stephenson, 66, tells me it is "a good thing" both politicians have chosen to come to Grimsby.

Mr Stephenson, a staunch supporter of former prime minister Boris Johnson, thinks the Conservatives will retain the seat but adds that Mr Sunak "will need to do a lot of work" to convince voters.

Further up the road, at the Nuns Corner Premier convenience store, owner Thinesh Rajavatnam, 42, says he has just taken over the running of the business.

He thinks it is time for the country to have a change of management, too.

"We need something different," he says. "I will probably vote Labour."

Thinesh Rajavatnam next to his banner that states 'under new management'Image source, Kevin Shoesmith/BBC
Image caption,

Convenience store owner Thinesh Rajavatnam believes it is time for change

Full list of candidates for the Great Grimsby and Cleethorpes constituency:

Ed Fraser - Green

Oliver Freeston - Reform UK

Mark Gee - Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition

John Lawson - Liberal Democrats

Lia Nici - Conservative

Melanie Onn - Labour

Christopher Stephenson - SDP

You can use the BBC News lookup tool to find out which constituency you are in, who is standing as a candidate in your area and which polling station you can vote at.

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