Broxtowe constituency is where I worked each time I traveled to England for New Labour (1997, 2001, 2005). The East Midlands Labour Party office is in the village of Attenborough, right across the motorway from my favorite chippy, George’s Tradition, in Ilkeston. My office was just upstairs from Nick Palmer’s campaign office, Labour’s candidate for Broxtowe all three of my visits. In 1997, a 10,000 vote Tory majority flipped to a 6,000 Labour majority to put Nick into Parliament. Big swings happen in Broxtowe, which is why it is a key seat (targeted) every general election.
Nick’s big issue is animal rights. Nick may not agree, but I always found him to be at least as left as Jeremy Corbyn, but Broxtowe voters didn’t seem to care. Nick worked the seat door to door doggedly for decades in one way or another, and was very popular locally. Thus, Nick held onto his big 1997 Labour majority in 2001. Alas, Labour’s Broxtowe majority shrank in 2005 to about 2,000, as Tory voters who switched to Labour in 1997 began to peel off over Iraq. By 2010, New Labour had lost every ounce of its credibility over Iraq. Tory Anna Soubry barely beat Nick by 400 votes in 2010. Soubry increased her majority (again beating Nick Palmer) in 2015 to a 4,287, which she defends Thursday.
Who are these voters; these Tory “switchers”? Broxtowe is suburban Nottingham, very like any Ohio county (Lake?) that also happens to be a targeted bellwether congressional seat. A mix of upperclass, middle and lower class voters, Broxtowe’s boundaries make it a very English place. There is a nature preserve near my office, with swans. In a pond. Near a churchyard with a spire (that pic up there). I always made the tea at my office. Pardon my residual Englishness.
Anyway, if the past month’s Tory collapse is real, and Labour has any shot at a parliamentary majority, Broxtowe will be won in 2017 by Greg Marshall, who took the baton from Nick Palmer’s able hands this spring. Big swings being standard in Broxtowe, one would certainly expect national polls showing Corbyn surging to manifest in Broxtowe. A 4,200 vote swing in Broxtowe would be well in line with historic patterns.
Broxtowe’s switchers would be switching, I think, over leadership. Theresa May has been awful as a candidate, and the Tory manifesto has been an un-costed chaotic series of U-turns. More annoyingly to Broxtowe’s switchers, she foisted this election onto them. No one wants more politics, certainly not an English key seat’s voters who have been bombarded with politics for seven solid years; Thursday will be the fourth national election in Britain since 2010, when Soubry first got to Parliament.
Is Broxtowe enough?
Meanwhile, Corbyn is the picture of strength. To see him on national television as Labour leader is simply astonishing, given the trench warfare the movement behind Corbyn had to endure the last two years. Corbyn is clearly a survivor, who will fight when challenged. Voters like that, not just British ones. In contrast to Theresa May, Corbyn has surged, taking on the Bernie Sanders feel of a historic moment, led by a historic movement.
My bet is the Tories lost Broxtowe when Theresa May refused to debate Corbyn; you called this election, for your own purposes, and you can’t even be bothered to turn up at a debate? British voters like to punish political parties; New Labour for Iraq, Major’s Tories for scandal, and now, perhaps, May’s Tories for cowardice.
Broxtowe might not be enough. Labour’s majorities have relied on winning seats in Scotland, which appears to be a pipe dream in 2017. The rise of Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party (SNP) has nearly wiped out both the Tories and Labour in Scotland. It is unlikely Scottish voters will switch tactically from SNP to Labour in numbers big enough to give Labour at least a handful of seats in Scotland, from only one. The days of Broxtowe deciding matters nationally, may thus be over.
Labour still need to win it. So do the Tories.