Ed Balls was MP for Morley and Outwood from 2010, having represented the now-abolished constituency of Normanton between 2005 and 2010. If Labour were to form the next government — and he retained the seat — Balls would be be Chancellor of the Exchequer. So it’s a marginal in which the stakes are high.
In 2010, Balls won on a majority of 1101 votes, with the Conservatives in second place and the Liberal Democrats in a fairly distant third. The polls thus far are looking favourable for Labour: Lord Ashcroft recorded a 7% swing from the Conservatives to Labour in January.
When we arrived in Morley on our road trip of 50 constituencies, the town centre was busy with pedestrians and lined with independent shops. In light of the seat’s incumbent, we wanted to find out more about residents’ attitudes to the economy: how did they think it was going, and did they trust any or (less likely) all of the political parties to oversee its growth?
Though the sun was shining, we caught voters on a fairly bad day for Labour. I’ll proviso this with the warning that a straw poll is by no means scientific. Our conversations with voters aren’t meant to form the basis for a prediction about the outcome. Instead, we hope to engage with, and gain some insight into, how residents are thinking about the election.
One of the first voters we spoke to commented that she used to vote Labour, but she wouldn’t again. “They don’t work for working people any more”, she began. It became clear that the reason was how she perceived Labour’s policies on welfare and benefits: “they propose too many hand-outs.”
Rushing off, though, she was reluctant to be drawn further on the specifics. We’ve found that people are often uneasy about voicing their views, let alone in great detail. There’s a general theme of uncertainty about which parties stand for what, and about the factual basis of wider policy issues.
Another Morley resident had very little to say for any of the mainstream parties. His daughter had left to work in Singapore, which he perceived as a good thing; not because of a fallout, but rather that she was economically better off there. A major driver of his current disillusionment was the EU: “let’s have a referendum. I know how I’ll be voting. Get. Us. Out!”
The EU and immigration are both topics which voters frequently perceive as taboo, prefacing their opinions with assurances such as “I’m not racist.” But people we speak to often seem, paradoxically, more forthcoming on these matters, and more sure of their own opinions.
Though the role of parties outside the Con/Lab/Lib trio has been a major theme of 2015 so far, along with the idea that traditional voting patterns are being disrupted, older loyalties and alignments were still evident among some voters in Morley. “The gap between rich and poor is too great”, one man told us. “And I’ve always been for Labour, that’s my background”.
Pensioners have received additional protections in recent years — the ‘triple lock’ ensures that state pension payments rise every year by the higher of inflation, average earnings or 2.5%. This didn’t go wholly unnoticed in Morley. One woman told us that she wasn’t sure who she’d be voting for moving forwards, but that “I’m a pensioner, so I’m alright. We worked hard and saved our money”.
Another, younger woman— who evidently had not (yet) benefitted from the changes in pensions — told us that she’d made up her mind: the Conservatives would definitely be getting her vote. “I trust them the most with the economy. I think it’s going alright, now.”
But not everyone was up for discussing politics, as is always the case. And it’s not always about discomfort, anger or disillusionment.
“I’ve got no opinions on the economy, mate,” one man called back to us. “I’m just enjoying the sunshine”.