Wirral West election special: Residents looking for ‘hope’

Villages, towns, and an estate looking for “hope” in a quiet corner of Wirral are set to make a big choice next month.

Political parties are campaigning across Wirral West ahead of the 2024 general election on 4 July. The seat has been held by Labour since 2015 and a recent YouGov poll suggests the party is on track to win it again in 2024.

However, the boundaries of the seat have changed as the Wirral South constituency has been abolished. Areas such as Clatterbridge, small villages like Thornton Hough, Brimstage, and Raby as well as Heswall, a town that has long voted Conservative in council elections, will become part of the reshaped constituency.

This means most of rural Wirral with its country lanes and farmers’ fields is now voting for the same MP. There, people who spoke to the LDRS said big issues included money and reform for the NHS, school funding, levels of immigration, housing, and more action on protecting the environment.

In picturesque Thornton Hough, one man said that “trying to get a doctor is like trying to pan for gold in the Mersey,” while one woman said positions on the issue of transgender rights and “protecting women only spaces” would influence how she voted. Some felt the two main parties weren’t offering what they wanted and now were considering voting for smaller parties.

Vicky Barrett, the vicar at the village’s All Saints Church believes reform of the prison system is needed and criticised the two-child benefit cap arguing this stopped families most in need from getting support. She said, “If ever there was a time for people to exercise their right to vote, it’s now.”

She added, “As well as the health service, it’s the whole social care wrap-around for children to care for the most vulnerable. We have got a terrible problem with mental health and I think we need to make sure people are being supported in being well mentally.

“We have increasing numbers of children present with additional learning needs and our current education system is ill equipped to deal with it.”

Chris Robinson-Lloyd who lives in Brimstage felt there was “no focus on the people” in politics

West Wirral is often seen as more affluent than other parts of the borough but in Brimstage with a population of around 100, Chris Robinson-Lloyd said the rising cost of living was “a real issue for people”.

She said, “It’s been false promises for far too long so there’s no trust there. They say they will do this and do that but when you look at the state of how we are living and mental health and financial struggles are so significant.”

Outside Spital is Vineyard Farm, a working farm that has existed for more than 500 years but is now run by Dave Willis who has been there since 1958 growing crops like wheat, sprouts, potatoes, and pumpkins.

He said, “It’s difficult. The weather was the biggest issue over the last year and now this year. It’s the biggest battle for us.” Last autumn, the fields were so wet they were forced to pick some of their potatoes by hand as the machine kept getting stuck.

Bad crop years mean farmers have to raise prices but those who work on the farm said this could drive some customers away and unlike supermarkets, they can’t make up the costs elsewhere. Other issues like Brexit and cheap food imports from abroad is also making life difficult.

Farmers used to receive support payments from the European Union when the UK was a member but this has since been replaced by a UK Government Environmental Land Management Scheme. Some believe the changes have accelerated a decline in farming businesses with around 1,500 more expected to close up by 2030.

Dave said nothing had really changed for farmers with little government support, adding, “There’s still a lot of imports from all over the world and that is what we are competing with because their standards aren’t as high as ours. They use a lot more chemicals without any restriction and we are very restricted on what we can use on the farm.”

However, given current cost of living issues and the higher cost of home-grown food, he added, “I think whatever government is in power will want cheap food to feed the masses. Unless there is cheap food in this country there would be a lot of trouble.”

Things aren’t all bad with loyal customers and busy periods around Christmas keeping them in business. When things like cabbages and cauliflower are in season, they’re cheaper than the supermarket’s too but Christina Baxter who works there said people weren’t often aware of these better prices.

She said more education about good food was needed, adding, “If people recognise what they are putting in their bodies, wouldn’t that help the NHS too? It all goes hand in hand.”

It’s not just farmers that are struggling. The Wheatsheaf Inn in Raby has existed since 1611 but currently “it’s the hardest I have ever known it,” according to landlord Alan Davies who has worked there since 1996.

Energy bills are the biggest pressure both for the pub and their food and drink suppliers. Changing habits following the coronavirus pandemic are still having an impact while VAT rates for pubs is currently 20% but in much of Europe it is around half this.

To adapt, he said the pub was improving its offer and “being consistent is really important,” adding, “It’s a constant battle to be honest with you. It’s probably the same for everyone in this industry. I know that the industry has been trying to push for a VAT reduction but that doesn’t seem to be coming so we have to try and crack on.”

Fiona Duffy who runs Sianee’s Silk Flowers

Over on the Woodchurch estate,  Fiona Duffy runs Sianee’s Silk Flowers with her sister Geraldine. She wants to see a full review of supply issues since the UK’s exit from the European Union with a view to helping small businesses, adding she does not want handouts.

She told the LDRS, “Tackle the issues rather than paper over it with grants. I want some long-term planning from them about how small businesses are going to be sustained going forward because we pay our taxes and do everything we need to do.”

She added, “It’s whether we can keep the business going. I do not want to close it. We have got loyal customers but we have got to stay competitive.

“It’s energy prices but it’s also along the supply chain. The import costs have gone up. The prices have gone up but the customers do not realise that.”

Personally, she said the rising costs of the business was having an impact on her income. Her partner is also currently out of work due to issues with his heart but he’s been waiting 18 months for an operation.

She said, “There’s no quick fix. The doctors and nurses, they need to invest in them better and not with the management. There’s too many chiefs. The NHS does need a shake up. I do not mean get rid of it, just a really really good look at it.”

She added, “If taxes have to go up, be really clear about why they are going up as some things I would be really happy to pay for if it was going to sort out the NHS.”

The Woodchurch has traditionally voted Labour and those within the party have previously said support there is needed to help win the seat.

Matt Gibbs. Credit: www.fotopiaimages.com

Matt Gibbs who runs the Carr Bridge Centre, a local charity, believes turnout will be low due to voter apathy after cuts to services on the Woodchurch in recent years, most notably the loss of its leisure centre.

He said people were starting to lose trust, adding, “There’s a complete disregard for politics and the police because they do not see it as positive. How do you convince people and say it’s important and say it does make a difference?”

“People do not want to be part of anything that is related to the council or police because all they have had is nothing or it’s been taken away.”

While the EVOLVE project to tackle crime and new pitches being built have been positive moves, Matt said there needs to be a long-term plan, adding, “I just feel like we are in the middle in no man’s land. Somebody up there could have a real vision that this could be a real sports or leisure hub but there’s no plan around here.”

He added, “It’s wishy-washy lip service when the priorities are elsewhere. The middle areas are getting left behind. The reason I say that is again what is the vision for the Woodchurch? There isn’t any vision at all.”

While he believed public services were under pressure, Matt added, “At least have a wish list for the Woodchurch after everything that has happened, after the despondency everyone has.”

He said, “All people want is something to be proud of other than having had constant battering but nothing to fill that void. Give people some hope,” adding, “It doesn’t have to be a multi-million pound swimming pool but there has to be something going forward.”

Mike Kennedy started coming to Hoole Road Hub run by Carr Bridge as a way for him to socialise. He also felt more needs to be done in places like the Woodchurch, adding, “Poverty of hope is horrible. You haven’t got a purpose. We have got to a crossroads and I do not know where society is going to go.”

He said, “I have always voted but I think there is something broken in the political system. I believe the two main parties are indistinguishable in some regards,” adding, “It’s a broken political system. I do not have faith in democracy.”

As a veteran, the issue of another world war was his major concern but locally, he said it was how difficult it is for young people to have a good quality of life and “appalling” levels of homelessness.

He said, “I was a working lad in the late 60s. I had a car, a house, and a boat. Those poor kids can’t even afford a house so where is the justice in that?”

Going forward, he also felt there needed to be more understanding of people’s differences and “meet people where they are,” particularly around issues like transgender rights.

He added, “We look at the divisions rather than inclusiveness. A better day will be when we do not judge each other on anything. Sometimes I think politicians use this divisiveness as a tool politically in time for elections when I would just like to think we should treat each other with respect. Maybe the government has got too much interference.”

The following candidates have been announced for Wirral West:

Ken Ferguson (Reform UK)
Gail Jenkinson (Green)
Jenny Johnson (Conservative)
Matt Patrick (Labour)
Peter Reisdorf (Liberal Democrat)

Further reading: Timetable for the 2024 general election

Lead image: Thornton Hough. All images credit: Ed Barnes, unless otherwise stated

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