Last week, the i came to my town of Shirebrook – located in Dennis Skinner’s constituency of Bolsover – to speak to residents about the election. Of the several local residents they could find to interview, all but one said they were voting for the Tories.
This has fed into desperate distortions from all sorts of media institutions who are hungry to conclude that former coalfield areas such as Bolsover are starting to lose their loyalty to Labour – and to parties who would deliver Brexit at any cost.
While it may be true that the political climate has changed over the years, I don’t believe that old mining communities such as Shirebrook have ideologically shifted to the right. Since I wasn’t even born during the 1984-85 miners’ strike, I called my friend John Dunn, a former striking miner, who put it bluntly about those who have always backed away from the heat, and prefer to side with the powerful: “These are the people that sided with the Tories in the strike. Their actions enabled the Tories to destroy our industry and communities. They should hang their heads in shame.”
Shirebrook, which was completely transformed by the defeat of the miners’ strike and the subsequent forced deindustrialisation of our areas, is now the example of life in a country without decent work. We’re faced with zero hours contracts, low wages and unscrupulous employers. It feels that the very heart of our community was ripped out the day that the mining headstocks were torn down and the international headquarters of Sports Direct was built on the wreckage of the colliery. Thatcherism has created the political climate we now live in, and political trust in the area is at an all-time low.
Despite all this, an optimism still exists amongst the local community. There still exists a belief that life could be better if a government empowered northern communities such as ours. Much of this hope is generated by a man who has served as our local MP for nearly half a century, and who has trust and respect amongst his constituents.
Dennis Skinner has an untainted record when it comes to standing up for working class people in Westminster’s ‘palace of varieties’. His views on the European Union are that of his constituents. As an MP, he has voted against every single EU treaty due to his belief that the EU takes power out of the hands of the people and into those of unelected European bureaucrats. Many on the Labour left have taken this approach to the European Union, and many residents in the Bolsover district have always felt the same.
Away from the issue of Europe, Dennis provides so much more than his counterparts in this election. He truly understands the problems this area faces, and sees the way that deregulation is crippling communities. He worked down the mines for 20 years and served as the Derbyshire NUM’s youngest president before coming to parliament. There is a sense from residents who have voted for Dennis all their life that he is one of us and is not part of the political elite that we never see.
People listen to him when he talks about a Green Industrial Revolution – or a Green New Deal, if you like. This is a fantastic policy which, if enacted, would provide so much hope to people in areas such as Bolsover, and would bring so much hope in solving the problems of unregulated labour and giving old coalfield towns a sense of progress and optimism that has laid dormant since the pits were shut.
They listen to him when he discusses Labour’s plans to ban zero hours contracts, which would vastly increase the stability, job security and working conditions for the 2000-odd workers employed at the Sports Direct warehouse. An increase in minimum wage of £10 an hour will far in solving the crime of in-work poverty, making sure that people can stress less about the bills, and give so many people some spare cash that they can spend in a thriving local economy.
All of these progressive, fully-costed policies are bringing hope to our young people particularly. Ashley Taylor, a young man from Shirebrook who I met through the Labour Party, joined because “Jeremy Corbyn offers hope to a generation which have been neglected by the establishment”. This popularity that Corbyn enjoys among young people – and the sense that Corbyn enables young people to stake out their future – will prove to be one of our biggest assets in this election as it was in 2017, in Bolsover as anywhere else.
There is no denying that Brexit is a big issue – and a challenge to Labour in Bolsover – but there is more at stake than that. The right-wing tabloids would have you believe that Boris Johnson is on the side of people here, just because 70% of people voted to Leave.
Johnson is using this as an opportunity to hoodwink these voters. However, for many this will be unthinkable, despite the way in which frustration over Brexit has mounted in many Labour areas. The people of Bolsover have a clear choice for the first time since Thatcher’s destruction of our industry – investment and the rebuilding of our communities with Labour, or more deregulation, wage freezes and cuts to public services under the Conservatives.
The bottom line is that austerity was a Tory attempt to create a society of overworked and the underpaid people who would never question the set-up. These people now feel unrepresented by a political elite, and Labour stands clearly on their side. If elected, a Labour government would deliver a programme of radical investment to better the lives of people in Bolsover and everywhere else, and to give them hope that we can heal the divisions which have presided over British society for so long. I have no doubt that this message will resonate on December 12th in Bolsover, and I can think of no better man to push that vision than our Dennis.