Corbyn’s reluctant backers: ‘He’s a nutter but I’m still voting Labour’

In parts of Nottinghamshire the party leader remains its biggest election drawback

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves York Innovation Centre after a speech during a general election campaign visit  on Friday. Photograph:  Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves York Innovation Centre after a speech during a general election campaign visit on Friday. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

 

Perched on a concrete bench outside a pound shop in Kirkby-in-Ashfield, John Harvey took a slow drag from his e-cigarette before delivering his verdict on Jeremy Corbyn.

“He’s a knob,” he said.

A heavily-tattooed former miner who served in the British army, Harvey is outraged by what he views as the Labour leader’s lack of patriotism. It is not Corbyn, however, but Brexit which will make him vote Conservative next week for the first time in his life.

“They’ll get us out, either them or Ukip. But Ukip’s too weak,” he said.

Ashfield, a constituency in the heart of Nottinghamshire’s mining district, voted by 70 per cent to 30 per cent to leave the EU last year. There were once 20 pits in the area, along with a successful textile industry. During the miners’ strike in the 1980s, Nottinghamshire miners refused to strike without a national strike ballot.

“They’re talking about this Corbyn surge but I just don’t see it. He’s just toxic around here

To this day, when football teams from other mining areas play Nottingham Forest, fans taunt Forest supporters with shouts of “scabs”. Mining and factory jobs have been replaced by less well-paid and less secure jobs in services, often in big distribution centres for retailers. Unemployment is low, but so are wages and educational attainment.

Labour’s Gloria De Piero, a former breakfast TV presenter who has held the seat since 2010, has a majority of more than 8,000 but she could lose next week.

“If she wins, it will be by about 500 votes,” a Labour campaign operative told me.

“They’re talking about this Corbyn surge but I just don’t see it. He’s just toxic around here. All I hear on the doorsteps is ‘Jeremy Corbyn’s a f**king arsehole’. I say, ‘Yeah he is, we have to get rid of him. But vote Labour anyway’.”

Polls dilemma

The narrowing in the polls, which has seen the Conservatives’ lead shrink to a few points according to some pollsters, is a problem for Labour in seats like this. As long as Theresa May looked set for a landslide victory and there seemed to be no chance that Corbyn could become prime minister, voters felt safe voting Labour.

“A woman said to me today, ‘Sorry duck, I just can’t take the risk’,” the Labour activist said.

We all want to be able to have some security when we’re old but we won’t have it under her

The Conservative campaign in Ashfield is invisible, with no posters, yard signs or canvassers. Instead, the party is running an expensive air war, buying wraparound ads in newspapers and sending voters personal letters from Theresa May, delivered by Royal Mail.

Labour’s campaign is more traditional, with door to door canvassing offering an opportunity to test public opinion day by day.

“At the start of the campaign, it was terrible and then it got better for a few weeks but in the last few days it feels worse. The Tories have had a shit campaign and Jeremy has had a good one, so the Labour vote hasn’t collapsed. But we’re going to lose a lot of seats,” the activist said

While I was talking to Harvey outside the pound shop, his friend David Prince, another ex-miner, rolled up on his mobility scooter. Prince also backed Brexit and he shares his friend’s opinion of Corbyn but he will not be voting Conservative.

“He’s a nutter, he is. But I’m still voting Labour. There are other people in the party, not just him,” he said.

“If they win, I won’t be happy that he’s prime minister but I’ll be happy that Labour got in.”

Voting Labour

Around the corner, Colleen Mulligan was doing brisk business selling handbags and purses at a market stall. She is voting Labour too, as her parents did all their lives, and she is outraged by May’s threat to means test a fuel allowance for the elderly and to make old people pay for their own social care.

“She won’t take care of the pensioners and she wants to take your house to pay for care. We all want to be able to have some security when we’re old but we won’t have it under her,” she said.

Mulligan’s view of the prime minister has darkened as the campaign has progressed and she now regards May as both uncaring and untrustworthy. Corbyn, on the other hand, has grown in her estimation.

“I know everyone around here says he’s terrible but I’ve seen him on the television a few times and he seemed all right. Better than her anyway,” she said.