Broxtowe in Nottinghamshire is getting pretty political. Situated just outside Nottingham City and a Labour seat for many years, it was won by Anna Soubry for the Conservatives in 2010 and again in 2015. Broxtowe Labour Party has avowed this will not happen again. Local councillor, party fundraiser and events organiser Teresa Cullen, explains why she is so confident about winning this election, despite Broxtowe dropping off the list of marginals and into the category of unwinnable seats.
‘When we were a key marginal we had a lot of help from the Labour Party but now that we are no longer – even though there is only a few thousand votes in it – we’re actually doing the campaign ourselves and having much more fun… We’ve bought a loud hailer to put on top of one of our cars, we’ve bought a loud speaker so we can stand on soap boxes and shout around on the streets, I’m busily organising events so we can be everywhere and be seen by everyone, and win this election in the way that we actually did until only two elections ago’.
Broxtowe party membership has almost trebled in the last two years and Teresa sees more excitement around politics now than she’s ever known. Whereas before the local Labour Party might get two or three people canvassing in a day, now at least 16 and sometimes 20 people are out on the streets three times a day. People are talking about politics in a way they never did before. Rather than accosting people during street stalls, members of the public are approaching them. What do you put it down to? I ask Teresa.
‘We’d got so tired of feeling we were just Tory-lite, and nobody was listening to our policies because they weren’t really anything different to what was being offered by the Conservatives. What’s different now is… we’ve got policies that are actual Labour policies; clear, Socialist policies that are distinctly, distinctly different from the Tories and the Lib Dems, distinctly different from UKIP and of anybody else. We’ve got something to stand and fight for now, and it’s re-energised us in quite an astonishing way.’
The crowd who turned up at the White Lion pub for Stand Up For Labour’s show that night was pretty mixed. Couples of a certain age sitting behind a young woman with a three month-old baby listening intently as the singer-songwriter, Rob Johnson, strummed revolutionary songs about class war that seemed to go down quite well, followed by a comic who made people laugh. Teresa headed up the raffle, ‘Right!’ she announced ‘Now’s the time to win Christmas presents that nobody wanted!’ More laughter filled the room. Broxtowe’s Labour candidate, Greg Marshall, made an impassioned speech as ladies in the audience reached for their mobile phones to film him. Warm applause greeted his critique of fracking and condemnation of the Conservative Party manifesto, which was released that day.
During the show we screen a short film by local filmmaker, Lewis Stainer, about Teaching Assistants in nearby Derby who have gone on strike. The women‘s pay has been cut by 25% with no reduction in hours or conditions. The women have responded by getting political. ‘They’ve got to understand’, says campaigner Helen Mo, ‘that we work with the most vulnerable children and the most challenging children in this city and we get results, and we get results because we dig our heels in and we work hard. And we are doing the same thing with this dispute. We are digging our heels in, and we are working hard to get what is right.’
Broxtowe voted by 55% to leave the EU in last year’s referendum. Like so many leave constituencies across the Midlands and the North, Broxtowe was an industrial heartland. From its factory in Beeston, British L M Ericsson produced telecommunications products from as early as 1903, and in 1910 it made handsets for Scott’s second Antarctic expedition. Early models of telephone were made in Beeston and this high-skilled engineering continued throughout the twentieth century. In 1961 British Ericsson Telephone Company was sold to Plessey who continued running the Beeston site until 1989, when it was bought in a hostile takeover and finally closed in 2008. Now the biggest employer in the area is Royal Mail.
As the show came to a close and the audience moved downstairs into the bar, I looked around and felt a great sense of energy. Hanging on all the walls of the pub were paintings and drawings by local artists, posters for storytelling nights, film nights, dance classes, theatre shows. The gentle rhythm of Brazilian music played in the background, the Portuguese owner, pulling pints with huge biceps and an afro, everybody chatting and buying one another drinks. I left feeling the people of Broxtowe were onto something here. This was the place to be that Thursday night. There was no pessimism about the election result in The White Lion. Instead, it was as if they had found themselves again. And maybe they have.