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By Ben Guerin
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Election Diaries Week 2 - Focus on Bolton West

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.

Last week we spent more time talking with the diarists in Bolton West. The constituency has been held by the Conservatives since 2015, with Labour requiring a 10.65 per cent swing to win on 4 July.

The seat sits on the outskirts of Manchester and is made up of distinct small towns and villages, with our diarists living in towns such as Horwich and Westhoughton. Much of the constituency is rural with designated green belt separating the existing towns.

View looking down on the town of Horwich (Alamy)

The community spirit and easy access to green spaces stand out as the best things about living in Bolton West. However, diarists feel the town centre has declined in recent years and visible homelessness is becoming increasingly common.

“Everybody knows each other and it’s a very close knit community in that sense.” – Gemma, Bolton West

“I like where I live, because it is a small market town but is quite rural. We are not too far from the city, the airport and have great transport and motorway links to get to other places. I like that there is still a lot of community spirit around here.” – Tina, Bolton West

What are the top issues for swing voters in Bolton West?

Consistent with the national picture, diarists are concerned about the state of the NHS. They feel local health services are overstretched. It feels impossible to get a GP appointment and waiting times for secondary care are very long. Some diarists are also concerned about the impact of understaffing on the quality of care their relatives receive.

“My nana has had a number of ops the past few months and seeing the hospitals over run with no beds and elderly patients having to wait in corridors […] Every time I’ve been in Bolton Hospital, Wythenshawe and Manchester Royal they have been over run, not enough staff.” – Gemma, Bolton

“GP access. Our GP, we ring, and nine times out of ten, when you're trying to get through to the GP: ‘we're unavailable’. Try again. ‘We're unavailable’. Try again. […] Trying to get a GP appointment is extremely tricky” – Barry, Bolton West

More locally, recent housing developments and the building of two logistic parks in the area have raised concerns. Diarists feel both were constructed without consideration for the wider infrastructure. As a result, the roads in their local area feel more congested and schools and health services now ‘oversubscribed’. Diarists blame a combination of local and national government for these changes in their local area, and want to see wider infrastructure developed to mitigate the impact.

Beyond the infrastructure, diarists are concerned that new developments are building on green spaces, making the area less attractive overall. Others feel that the logistics have raised the price of housing in the area and they are now being ‘priced out’ of buying a home.

“It’s absolutely ludicrous the way house prices have gone up. We have been absolutely priced out of buying a house.” – Barry, Bolton West

“Overdevelopment, with a growing lack of facilities such as schools, doctors, dentists. As well as massively congested roads only set to get worse. Poor local government services that we pay for which will only become more strained.” – Simon, Bolton West

“Green areas are becoming estates and had become over populated. So I think the housing issue in this country of not enough housing is not quite the same.” – Tom, Bolton West

“It feels BL5 has become the Wild West of building, full of cowboys who will build anything anywhere.” – Philip, Bolton West

Westhoughton (Alamy)

“It is a commuter belt constituency and over the last few years has had significant development in terms of additional housing due to its access to Manchester and also its access to the West Pennine borders. So it is an attractive place to live. Unfortunately, infrastructure has not kept pace with this, so we now have very crowded roads, our health services are significantly oversubscribed and there is a threat to greenbelt land, which it was proposed to build a Ryder cup standard golf course on.” – Martin, Bolton West

“Too many houses being built without facilities to match. So no more doctors, dentists or schools.” – Natalie, Bolton West

Diarists feel crime is also an important issue locally. Diarists feel crime has been increasing, and there has been a drop in police presence.

“Local policing is non-existent and the police service has been decimated.” – Simon, Bolton West

“Crime has gone up around her the last few years. Someone stabbed to death a 15 year old boy outside of my mum’s house. Knife crime being the main cause around here and in other areas. Young gangs are a problem and drugs, so I think this needs to be targeted more in Bolton." – Gemma, Bolton West

What do the diarists think about their local candidates?

Diarists feel they know relatively little about the two main candidates in their area: the Conservative incumbent Chris Green and Phil Brickell the candidate for the Labour Party.

Some feel Green does not have a strong track record in Bolton. There is a sense that he doesn’t always deliver what he says he will, most notably around the state of the roads and overdevelopment. Others feel he has facilitated many new developments – which are seen as a big local issue – in the area.

On the other hand, while few diarists could say what Rickell stands for there is a sense that he is more visible in the community. He is popping up on the door step, leafletting, and being active in local social and traditional media. While ultimately most remain undecided at this point in the campaign, they are noticing more local support for the Labour candidate.

“I think Phil Brickell the Labour candidate seems to be a popular candidate for the election. He is getting seen on our local Facebook page, Friends of our Westhoughton and in the Bolton news. As of yet his is the only leaflet I have shoved through my letterbox, I've had none from any other candidates.” – Tina, Bolton West

Conservative candidate Chris Green

“The local candidates in my area, to be honest, I don't actually know that much about them. I've heard a bit more about Chris Green, Conservatives. He doesn't seem to do what he says. Like said he'll mend the roads, sort the potholes out, which are really bad. More police on the beat. Never see them. Never. I can't remember the last time I saw a police officer around here. And he also goes on about over development, saving greener spaces, where I feel it is massively overdeveloped.” – Philippa, Bolton West

“Labour did the door knocking round and chatting on the doorstep. I don’t feel I know anything about them, however they seem to be active in the area as some neighbours have mentioned them coming on the street.” – Emma, Bolton West

“Chris Green – I feel the things he focuses on don’t always get done. Phil Brickell was born in Bolton and used to work for the NHS and so did his mum and dad, so I think he world focus on these areas that we are really struggling with as well as everywhere else. I don’t know if this is true but one of my friends said he used to also work for Manchester City council.” – Gemma, Bolton West

For those considering them in Bolton West, Reform’s appeal as an ‘alternative’ to the ‘main two’ seems more important than any local issue or pledge. Diarists have seen very little from or about the local Reform UK candidate – Dylan Evans. News that he wants to remove Bolton from Greater Manchester so it can rejoin Lancashire has piqued the interest of one or two diarists. At a national level, Reform’s pledge to increase the personal allowance to £20,000 is also mentioned positively by some.

“Dyan Evans is our candidate for Reform UK. I like some of the things he’s fighting for. He actually wants to get Bolton out of the Greater Manchester area and back into Lancashire, because they feel Greater Manchester waste too much money. … He seems to have our interests at heart.” – Tina, Bolton West

“Have known nothing else other than Labour or Conservative and both have managed to screw the country up. I think it’s time for a change. Both Labour and Conservative seem to be more interested in discrediting each other than putting the ordinary people first, Lib Dems and Reform seem to be more in line with my thoughts and feelings at present.” – Philip, Bolton West

By Ben Shimshon and Allie Jennings, Thinks Insight and Strategy

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Read the most recent article written by Ben Shimshon and Allie Jennings - Election Diaries Week 3 - Focus On Swindon South


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