“My wife and I were mad for hours,” says an old man, gesticulating at the construction site down the road. “It is the only art deco building in the area – why would they knock it down?”
He refers to the demolition of Electric House, formerly municipal offices, which the Labour-run Brent Council is currently replacing with flats. The new building will feature a curved edge and a retro-looking clock designed to be reminiscent of early twentieth century architecture, but few will likely claim that makes up for the loss of the real deal.
At first reluctant to talk to me, this man, once he began, could hardly contain his outrage at the council’s decision. And it’s not just the councillors who’ll be on the receiving end of his ire – he’ll be voting for the Conservatives at the general election:
That’s right, folks – the corkboard, of Newton Abbot and Oxford West and Abingdon fame, is back. A sunny Friday afternoon saw myself and Adam accosting the unsuspecting residents of Brent Central and asking which they party they reckon they’ll vote for next May and their main reason for doing so. Their responses, along with those from a similar exercise in Sutton and Cheam, ended up on our board – the colours correspond to the parties, with light purple/ grey standing for “undecided” or “not voting”:
The demolition of Electric House wasn’t the only reason constituents were thinking of taking out their frustrations over the actions of Brent Council on Labour’s campaign to win the Parliamentary seat, which is a Lib Dem-Labour marginal. Two middle-aged sisters, who vacillated several times between Labour and the Liberal Democrats over the course of our short conversation, brought up the council’s plans to charge residents £40 a year for green waste collections – “We pay council tax already!” Still, they went for Labour in the end:
An irate Irish woman fumed about the additional green-waste levy, too. Though vehemently undecided about how she’d be voting next May, she was certain tax-issues were going to be her main concern:
We pooled the comments everyone gave us into the following word cloud – the bigger the word, the more frequently it came up in our conversations:
Unsurprisingly, the NHS and immigration were common themes, though not always for the reasons you might expect. One woman gave her main concern as the NHS because she’s employed by them. And in one instance immigration came up because our respondent is herself an immigrant:
There was a lot of dissatisfaction with the political system, too. Several undecided voters gave answers that were very scathing of politicians: “I’m not sure who to believe,” said one; “Politicians don’t tell the truth,” said another. UKIP and the Greens are normally thought of as being at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but both parties have evidently tapped into this anti-Westminster sentiment. A Green supporter and a UKIP supporter gave surprisingly similar answers:
The main fight next May is likely to be between Ibrahim Taguri (read 50for15’s interview here) of the Liberal Democrats and Labour’s Dawn Butler. Although the sample size was far too small to make predictions, it is interesting to see that, in Brent Central, a central cross-over point in appeal between the two parties seems to be fairness and equality of society.
With six months to go, how will Taguri and Butler distinguish themselves and their parties in the minds of their potential constituents? One thing is certain: it won’t be by standing around on street corners holding scraps of coloured paper – Londoners, to little surprise, turned out to be far less interested in talking to political bloggers than the folk of Newton Abbot or the townspeople of Abingdon.
Keep an eye out for further adventures of the corkboard – available exclusively on 50for15…