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By Ben Guerin
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Election Diaries Week 3 - Focus On Swindon South

8 min read

PoliticsHome / The House in partnership with Thinks Insight & Strategy will be tracking reactions from swing voters in five key battlegrounds throughout the general election campaign.

Find out more here.

Swindon South

In Week 3 of the Election Diaries, we took a deep dive into the Swindon South constituency. The seat has been held by Conservative MP Robert Buckland since 2010 and is being contested by Labour candidate Heidi Alexander (former Lewisham East MP and Deputy Mayor of London for Transport), who needs a 5.7% swing to win.

Diarists in Swindon South live in a mix of suburban and rural locations. Although overwhelmingly pessimistic about their local town centre, participants appreciate the easy access to parks and green space.

“The thing I like most about my area is firstly, I can walk to school, shops, cinema, sports centre, and open fields - have a lovely local park with a big house in grounds and lots of green areas. Also you can be out in the countryside within 5/10 mins drive.” – Leigh, Swindon South

What are the biggest issues in Swindon South?

In line with what we have heard from diarists in other constituencies across the country, concerns centre on the NHS, but also the compounding issues of crime, cost of living, and lack of investment in the local area and community, which is seen to particularly affect children and teenagers.

In Swindon South, there is an overall sense of neglect and under-funding. Diarists are frustrated with local governance and worried about the lack of free or affordable facilities for children and teenagers, with the council-owned swimming pools and leisure centres having closed down.

Leisure CentreThis is our main leisure centre that shut down years ago the council have been promising to revamp and reopen for years to no avail, it’s a very famous building that the band “Oasis” named themselves after allegedly. It was the hub of Swindon and everyone would go there and later in years it became a music venue which was great but the council ran it into rack and ruin.” – James, Swindon South

The town centre is seen as a particular problem area, characterised in diarists’ perceptions by derelict shops and anti-social behaviour. Diarists worry that the area has become increasingly unattractive for investors, with many choosing to open shops in the local outlet centre instead.

"There is no heart to this town any longer, it’s been ripped out. There are no facilities for children, there is no town centre for people of all ages to meet up. Our main leisure centre closed years ago and there’s nothing close that is council owned." – James, Swindon South

“The biggest issue is the town centre. It’s really quite derelict and a lot of shops have closed down. I went there today and I would say 50% of the spaces they have there are just closed, just waiting for shops to invest but no one will because it’s not a well visited area. These issues will decide my vote because Labour have released a manifesto for my area, and it’s really needed.” – Kane, Swindon South

town centre“I think one of the biggest issues is the town centre, so many empty shops and a lot of people just don’t go there now. Apparently to do with high rent. Need to rejuvenate the centre and get people shopping there again. I also think crime is on the rise, so more police on our streets would be good.” – Lydia, Swindon South

Drug-related and knife crimes are seen as increasingly common, and many diarists link this directly to underfunding of public services and lack of facilities for young people.

“The biggest issues in Swindon South really do vary depending on who you speak to - the cost of housing, the growing levels of seemingly gang/drug related violence and muggings. There has been a notable uptick in local news stories of people being robbed for phones and wallets. Masked youths have ridden through streets wielding knives (past local schools).” – Neil, Swindon South

"We have a knife and gang problem I feel with drugs being sold on our streets young children selling... Parents not parenting children being left to bring themselves up... Teenagers have nowhere to go chill out." – Michelle, Swindon South

Diarists see the cost of living as a major contributing factor to all of the above issues, affecting public investment and crime, as well as housing affordability and daily expenses.

“The cost of living is having an impact. The town centre needs money and investors - there is nothing anymore you would want to go to the town centre for. Lots of shoplifting and drug users are a common sight but with little police or security enforcement. I feel sorry for retail staff nowadays having to deal with all of this.” – Rachel, Swindon South

Finally, as in other locations, the NHS is a top concern. Diarists report long waiting times for hospital referrals and difficulty accessing GP appointments and NHS dentists.

The local hospital is not big enough for the growing town, you wait hours if you have to go there. And for routine hospital appointments you end up having to go to Bristol, Bath or Oxford! – Leigh, Swindon South

“The local NHS is also massively over strained. I’ve been on a waiting list for hospital referral for almost 2 years. The local people are travelling up to Reading for routine operations and trying to get an NHS dentist in Swindon is now impossible.” – Neil, Swindon South

How do diarists feel about their local candidates?

Diarists are relatively familiar with Robert Buckland, who has been MP for the area since 2010, and they have mostly heard from (or at least of) Heidi Alexander. There is very little awareness of candidates from smaller parties, with only a couple of diarists mentioning the Lib Dem candidate, Matt McCabe.

Overall, diarists report seeing much more campaign activity from Labour, compared to other parties. They mention flyers, door knockers, as well as Keir Starmer’s recent visit to a local supermarket.

Leaflets“The main candidates are Heidi Alexander for Labour and Robert Buckland for Conservatives. I couldn’t name any other candidates! We’ve had one generic flyer from Robert Buckland which focused on local issues and was a clear tactic to distance him from the national shortcomings of the government. We’ve had too many Labour flyers to count and letters addressed to us.” – Neil, Swindon South

“I’ve had several leaflets put through the door for Labour but nothing else 🤷🏻‍♀️ I also had someone knock on my door for labour asking if I was going to vote for Labour. Starmer was in Swindon yesterday at a local supermarket.” – Rachel, Swindon South

“I didn’t know our Lib Dem candidate until today. Robert Buckland has been around here for years. Only heard of Heidi Alexander recently, and I think she was canvassing in our street few weeks ago.” – Leigh, Swindon South

Feelings about Robert Buckland’s track record are mixed. While some feel he has not effected any change for the area and has overseen the decline of the town centre, others have experienced him as a caring MP who has helped local residents with specific issues.

Although most feel the Conservatives are unlikely to win the election overall, and some even have the sense that the Conservatives have “given up” nationally, Robert Buckland is still seen to be fighting a campaign – though not as fervently as Labour.

“Well, Robert Buckland has been MP for Swindon South for 14 years. I couldn't tell you 3 things he's done for Swindon in that time. He might be a very nice man but what has he actually done???” – Richard, Swindon South

Heidi“Robert Buckland has been good in supporting residents with specific issues and championing certain causes. His involvement in the various government positions over the years means that he has voted with the whip and so hasn’t really represented my personal views.” – Neil, Swindon South

“Robert Buckland’s letter says basically that Labour are going to win, so they don’t need your vote so can still vote for him, if you want, without affecting the overall result!” – Leigh, Swindon South

“I don't know too much about Heidi, but I have heard some people talk highly about her, but nothing specific. I don't really have a lot of time for R Buckland.” – Tony, Swindon South

“Virtually everyone who is leaning Labour goes on to mention the local candidate, Heidi Alexander, who seems to have knocked on just about every door and created a buzz. Even a chap at the swimming pool spoke eagerly about a phone call he was due to have with Heidi (after a labour worker knocked his door and took his details).” Neil, Swindon South

“So far, the only people that have knocked on my door is Labour which is our local born and bred MP Heidi Alexander. I hear good things from her from other people.” – James, Swindon South

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