This article records an instance of racist language and the expression of views – not Chris Green’s – which may offend or disturb.
Bolton West is a geographically confused place. “It’s really more West of Bolton,” says Chris Green, the Conservative candidate for the seat – and he shudders at the idea the constituency is in Greater Manchester, rather than Lancashire.
Added to that, the settlements that make up most of the seat – places like Horwich, Atherton, and Westhoughton – are referred to as “townships” in the official local literature, which, as Green points out, sounds more South African than Lancastrian. “When Bolton is near enough the largest town in Europe not to have been upgraded to a city, I suppose it seems strange to call Horwich a town, too.”
A characteristic of these townships, Green explains over a couple of pints of cider in a Bolton pub, is that at a local level they are mostly run by Labour-dominated councils based in nearby, but separate, towns. Horwich, for instance, is governed by Bolton Council, and Atherton by Wigan Council. “There’s a general sense that they pay taxes, but little comes back to them.” The constituency, as a whole, is overseen by a Labour MP, too: Julie Hilling.
“It’s a Labour establishment, so there’s no one to challenge what improvements should and shouldn’t be made. Things seems to go through on the nod.”
Anger at the apparent neglect of the townships of Bolton West has even motivated the creation of a potential political party dedicated to Horwich, Horwich First – “nothing to do with Britain First,” Green is quick to add. “We just want the voices of Horwich people to be heard,” they explain on their Facebook page. There is a Horwich town council, but if the furious replies to a recent Horwich First Facebook post are anything to go by, it is a significantly emaciated version of what it once was.
A recent Tweet by Julie Hilling, in which she rather innocuously asked for volunteers to join her campaigning in the run-up to May 7th, also managed to arouse the wrath of township residents. The replies to it were entirely preoccupied with the state of Horwich. “Bolton Labour are ripping the soul out of Horwich. No opposition,” said one. “£10m (min) spent on various town centre projects and Horwich gets nothing,” replied another.
Green is worried, too, about the house-building projects under discussion in Bolton. “It’s eroding the green spaces between the towns, and people are worried about the loss of identity that will come with that.”
“I’m pro building houses in the right place,” Green clarifies. “But Bolton ought to be doing the same thing as Manchester, building flats in old warehouses.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Green is unwilling to agree to my proposition that if the local councils were all Conservative-held, given his opposition to the local hegemonies, he would be backing a Labour Parliamentary candidate for Bolton West. “A Conservative establishment would be better than a Labour establishment,” he says cautiously, before moving on to a more general discussion of Labour’s problems. “It’s a disappointment that Labour don’t offer more of an alternative – it’s bad for democracy. Anti-Miliband voters will just be going to UKIP.”
This may turn out to be particularly true of Bolton West, where the local UKIP candidate, Bob Horsefield, is a trade-unionist and a former Labour-supporter. “He’s wonderful – Labour just don’t understand what UKIP means in this part of the country.”
And this part of the country is very much part of Chris Green. Having grown in up in Liverpool – “not exactly the best background for Conservatism” – Green has spent most of the last two decades working as an engineer in “mass spec,” aka mass spectrometry, in Manchester, where he stood as a Parliamentary candidate in 2010. You wouldn’t be able to tell from his Southern-sounding accent, though. “As a good Tory, I blame the BBC… Dad travelled around a lot [he was in the army], and I went to an army school for a while. And I rather like BBC Radio 4.
“I never find it a problem with voters. Anyone who does mind would never vote Conservative anyway.”
I ask what he hopes to achieve in the next five years, whether as an MP or not. “As an MP I want to work towards the long-term economic plan – however much that can seem like a glib phrase, it runs through everything: we need more jobs, more opportunities. And locally I want to challenge Labour’s decisions, which are all too complacent.
“If not as an MP, I don’t know if I’d stand again in 2020. You put so much into a campaign, and I really don’t know how I’d feel if I was rejected on 8th May. I hope to continue to challenge the Labour establishment, but it’s very personal to lose.”
As we are about to finish off our ciders, a group sitting nearby come up to us. “I hate Pakis, rats, rats, rats,” says one, as his friend tries to nudge him away. “They’re sewer rats,” chimes in someone else from across the room.
“Yeah sewer rats. Rats, rats. I hate them,” continues the first. “You remember that when you’re in Parliament.”
“I’ll certainly remember this,” Green says diplomatically.
Discussing this later by email, Green tells me: “There are some major tensions within Bolton, as can be seen with the number of thumbs up to certain comments on Bolton News stories, but I had never seen or heard anything like that before.”