UK election: Why does Nuneaton matter?

The party that wins the small Midlands town has won the general election in seven of the last eight contests.

Nuneaton, UK
Nuneaton is considered one of the bellwether constituencies in British politics [Shafik Mandhai/Al Jazeera]

Nuneaton, UK – In Nuneaton’s town centre, a butcher operating out of a converted truck uses a loudspeaker system to sell the “best beef joints in the Midlands”.

Not far away, rows of market stalls manned by bored vendors sell wares as diverse as dresses and flashing fidget spinners.

The scene is quaint, relaxed, and typical of a medium-sized town in central England. But on June 8, politicians, journalists and pollsters will keep a keen eye on Nuneaton to see which way it votes.

A representation of Britain 

The town, located in Warwickshire County, is considered one of the bellwether constituencies in British politics. Since 1983, with the exception of one election, the party that has won Nuneaton has won the general election.

The incumbent Member of Parliament Marcus Jones belongs to the Conservative party, and if he were to lose his seat, nerves would be fraying in the ruling party headquarters on Thursday night.

But Nuneaton’s bellwether status is not without its sceptics in the town.

“It’s the media making a big deal out of it,” said one man on the status. “Nobody here cares,” he added, before rushing away without giving his name.

Nevertheless, lifelong Nuneaton resident Muhammad Aswat offered an explanation.

“I think [Nuneaton] is a representation of Britain as a whole,” the 28-year-old told Al Jazeera, describing the town’s demographic make-up.

“You have students, migrants, a lot of middle-class homeowners, and a strong working class population, which reflects the overall population of the country.”

When it comes to demographic statistics for Nuneaton, the town makes a good case for being the most average constituency in the UK.

In terms of its ethnic make-up, around 90 percent of its population is white, close to the overall UK average, and Asians make up six percent.

Voting Labour: ‘Looking after the poor’

Opinions in the town centre are no substitute for more scientific polling but the sentiments do reflect the divisions seen elsewhere in the country.

Riaz, who works at a store selling video games and considers himself more of a Liberal Democrat, told Al Jazeera he would be voting for Jeremy Corbyn‘s Labour party.

“It’s a tactical vote for Labour but in terms of Corbyn, I do believe his policies are definitely good for my future … I’m a working father with three girls and I work a minimum wage job.

“It’s hard enough to get by without any hope for the future … Corbyn’s promise of a minimum wage of 10 pounds ($12.90) does appeal to me.

“His policies mean the poor are looked after and the disadvantaged in society are listened to.”

When asked if he knew any Conservatives that Al Jazeera could speak to, Riaz turned to his colleagues who emphatically shook their heads.

“They’re all lefties,” he said, adding, “they’re all voting for Labour.”

Voting Conservative: ‘A vote for Brexit’

But that sentiment is far from universal.

Across the street, Glyn Lilley, who has run a stall selling knitting supplies for the past 47 years, told Al Jazeera he would be voting for British Prime Minister Theresa May‘s Conservatives because only they can guarantee the hard Brexit he wants.

“I voted heavily for Brexit and I’m going to follow that thought through,” Lilley, who is in his late-60s, told Al Jazeera.

“Labour isn’t going for Brexit, they’re saying they are but there’s only a minority of Tories [Conservatives] who are remoaners, but there’s a majority of Labour, which are remoaners,” he added, using a derisive term for those who supported the campaign to remain in the European Union and want the outcome of last year’s referendum to be reversed or softened.

The Conservative margin over Labour in the city stands at nearly 5,000, and when May called the election in April, there was little suggestion that majority was at risk.

Back then, the Conservative lead over Labour was as high as 25 percent and May looked set to pick up a majority in the hundreds.

Can Labour win Nuneaton – and the election? 

That lead has slowly dwindled to between three and eight percent depending on the polling company and methodology used, with momentum in Corbyn’s sails as the campaign enters its last few days before the vote.

While May still remains the frontrunner, more and more seats seem winnable from Labour’s perspective.

In an Ipsos-Mori poll published on June 2, the Conservatives were ahead of Labour by 45 points to 40 in a poll of likely voters, but behind when the likelihood of respondents voting was not factored, with Labour leading 43 to 40.

Corbyn’s challenge, therefore, will be to convince those leaning towards Labour, but not likely to vote to turn up at the polls.

At a shopping centre in Nuneaton, Katherine a recently qualified teacher told Al Jazeera she was apolitical but felt obliged to partake in the upcoming vote.

“I’m swaying towards Labour but it’s more about what I don’t like about the Conservatives that’s pushing me towards them,” she said.

“I don’t like their plans to privatise the NHS and I’m a teacher so the education cuts I’ve experienced put me off and, yes, I’m definitely going to vote.”

The incumbent MP Marcus Jones belongs to the Conservative party [Shafik Mandhai/Al Jazeera]
The incumbent MP Marcus Jones belongs to the Conservative party [Shafik Mandhai/Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera