Broxtowe encompasses a long, rambling strip extending to the west and north of Nottingham. Although within the Nottingham Urban Area — the designation used by the ONS to reference the continuous urban sprawl between Nottingham and what were once distinct towns — it is not under the authority of Nottingham City Council.
So, the constituency is at once a series of towns and a continuation of Nottingham. When a bus driver told us that our tickets would take allow us travel ‘just in Nottingham’, it was taken for granted that we understood towns like Beeston, in Broxtowe, to be included within this.
The inner city constituencies of Nottingham are all held by Labour. In Nottingham North, the party got almost double the number of Conservative votes in 2010. In Nottingham East, the margin was 21 points. Nottingham South is more marginal, containing the well-to-do suburb of Wollaton as well as pockets of deprivation. And the more suburban seats were even more closely split.
Since both Broxtowe and its northern neighbour Sherwood fell to the Conservatives in 2010 with margins of 389 and 214 votes respectively, they created a river of blue which cuts off red Nottingham from the Labour fortress running from Wakefield to Ashfield, a swathe which harbours Ed Miliband’s seat of Doncaster.
Meanwhile Gedling, which closely resembles Broxtowe in physical appearance and demographics, was narrowly held by Labour in 2010. The same is true of Ashfield, parts of which were contained in the original Broxtowe constituency.
These marginal constituencies surrounding the City of Nottingham are largely suburban in their characteristics, but all have an industrial history: namely, in coal mining. This history is still present in the case of Sherwood, which still contains an operational coalfield at Edwinstone. Yet Sherwood also contains more rural populations, and was Conservative prior to New Labour.
Like Sherwood, Broxtowe was Conservative under Thatcher and Major, Labour under Blair and Brown, and Conservative again for David Cameron in 2010. Anna Soubry was its MP in the last parliament, and was, prior to her political career, known for presenting This Morning in the 1980s.
As at the last election, Soubry will be fighting it out against Labour’s Nick Palmer. While she is the incumbent now, he was MP between 1997 and 2010: both candidates have the advantages and disadvantages that come with a local record as MP.
Adding to the incumbency-fest, Liberal Democrat candidate Stan Heptinstall has been a borough councillor for 24 years, a local councillor for 14, and mayor of Broxtowe since 2014. The impression is of a constituency where local issues predominate, and local credentials matter.
Ahead of the 2015 election, Ashcroft has polled Broxtowe twice, in May and then July 2014. Both polls put Labour in the lead, but with a decreased margin of nine points in the latter. Whether the narrowing trend has abated, increased or reversed is manifestly unclear. It could end up being close. Broxtowe is one of the seats Labour definitely needs to win if it is to gain an absolute majority — though with no party set to be able to form a majority government by itself, who gains the edge with a plurality is of crucial importance.
The distinctive issues in Broxtowe for this election are largely oriented around transport. The introduction of trams between Beeston and Nottingham was plagued by delays — as is typical of such infrastructure projects — and with a Labour city council for Nottingham and a Conservative MP for Broxtowe, it’s still a contested topic.
And while there is, at a national level, cross party support for HS2, it’s a dividing issue between candidates here. The rail project would take the journey time between Birmingham and London to under 50 minutes. And with a planned hub within the constituency at Toton Sidings, it’s a particularly salient issue for Broxtowe.
On a debate televised by the BBC’s Politics Show, Nick Palmer voiced the view that the establishment had too readily accepted the £43bn cost of the project (as estimated by the Department for Transport), and stated that he wouldn’t vote for the package in its current form. His reservations, aside from the cost, related to assurances for Broxtowe residents as regards disruption.
Not missing an opportunity to remind viewers of the tram delays, Soubry noted that there were lessons to be learnt from that project’s delay — but that there was local support for HS2. Some homes in Broxtowe would need to be demolished to complete the project, and while she notes that not all residents support the plans, she cites the project as providing a “fantastic opportunity” for the area.
Stan Heptinstall, the Liberal Democrat candidate, was unabashedly in favour of HS2. “I’m not going to tell you what people want to hear, I’m going to tell you what is right,” he stated, cementing his position on the project.
Another significant over the last Parliament has been the reduction in funding faced by Broxtowe borough council. It underwent the biggest drop in spending power of any borough council in the country. Palmer gives the issue a prominent position in his ‘six point’ case for his election. In a continuation in theme, if not content, Soubry also offers a six point plan for Broxtowe.
Though the Ashcroft polling has obvious limitations, the July result put UKIP ahead of the Liberal Democrats, and with a sizeable 18%, the party seems to have encroached at the expense of the Conservative vote. The local UKIP candidate Frank Dunne warned on the BBC debate “not to underestimate [him]”: he’s ploughed his own money and time in the campaign, and is “in it to win it”.
Dunne reminded voters that UKIP came first in the European election results for Broxtowe. The party won 31% of the vote, ahead of 26.5% for Labour and 24.1% for the Conservatives. Though European election results rarely mirror those in general elections, there’s clearly a contingent with underlying sympathy for the UKIP message.
The other candidates, though, don’t show many signs of pursuing the UKIP-ers. Soubry stated on the debate that it is still a straight race between Labour and the Conservatives, and in 2014 on the BBC One Andrew Marr show recounted that “People come and see me in my constituency surgery, who say ‘I’m really worried about immigration’. You say ‘really, why? This is Broxtowe. We don’t have a problem with with immigrants.’”
On the recent BBC candidate debate, Labour’s Nick Palmer was similarly unwilling to move towards the UKIP vote. “Immigrants are entitled to the same justice as everyone else” he stated. He was sanguine about the electoral consequences of this: “UKIP will take votes from everyone”.