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Gary Younge
Voices and votes: what Britain is really thinking

On the face of it, Wells is straightforward: a two-horse race between the Tories, defending the seat, and the Liberal Democrats, who must win in places like this if they are to become a credible political force again.

But while the bottom line is simple, voters’ thoughts and feelings about the two main parties here have proved complex, confused, divided and febrile.

We have spoken to stalwart Conservative voters who are planning to vote Lib Dem because they fear a large Theresa May majority, and to others expressing upset at the Tory austerity programme or the party’s approach to vulnerable members of society, such as people with disabilities.

On the other hand, there are voters who would like to plump for Tessa Munt – the well-known and popular Lib Dem candidate – but have been put off by her party’s pledge to hold another referendum on the final Brexit deal. Almost everyone we spoke to said there was no going back – we have to get on with Brexit. And few liked the Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron.

One striking phenomenon initially was the number of people from less wealthy areas who said they would vote for May because they saw her as a new Margaret Thatcher. As the campaign progressed, some of these appear to have grown bored of May’s “strong and stable” mantra and may have drifted away.

It is worth mentioning Labour, too. The party cannot win here this time, but its activists believe Jeremy Corbyn has changed the game for them. They say a base is being built that could see them taking the seat in 10, 20, 30 years. We spoke to many younger people who said they would lend their vote to the Lib Dems for tactical reasons, but really backed the Labour leader.

The lines are blurred. A number of people said they would decide on the day, even waiting until they entered the voting booth. If the Tories hold on, they will have done it through dogged hard work and will say it shows that people trust the party and the prime minister. If they lose, the Lib Dems will claim the comeback is on. But it’s really not as straightforward as that. Steven Morris

When I crossed the complicated mass of roads known as spaghetti junction into Erdington six weeks ago, I found myself in a district torn by its political affiliations. It is a place where the collapse of a once great motor trade has caused many to be unemployed, where the voluntary sector is having to take up the slack caused by austerity, where immigration and low wages are hot topics, and where a litter crisis is causing understandable consternation. However, I also found a fiercely proud community, one that is galvanised to make their suburb a better place to live, and one where I heard the phrase “I love Erdington” countless times.

It’s difficult to predict how the residents of this Birmingham district will cast their votes: they wish to affect changes locally and yet marry these needs to the wider national issues of party leadership, immigration and recent terrorist attacks. Erdington comes under the umbrella of the Labour-led Birmingham city council, but its three councillors – Bob Beauchamp, Gareth Moore and Robert Alden – are Conservatives. Alden is standing against Labour’s Jack Dromey, who has represented the seat for seven years. There is also the fact that 63% of the constituency voted for Brexit.

Many of the Erdington people I spoke to felt abandoned by politicians. Others were politically engaged but had not decided who would get their vote. This indecision has been exacerbated by the recent terrorist attacks on home soil; for many of those I interviewed, these have changed their focus from local to national issues.

That said, whoever wins this seat, they will be called upon to bring about the change in the community that people feel is desperately needed: rejuvenating the dying high street, managing a burgeoning litter crisis, and creating spaces for this diverse community to integrate and quell any rising racial tensions. Nazia Parveen

At the start of the election campaign, most people expected the Lib Dems to win Cambridge. The local candidate, Julian Huppert, who was MP here from 2010-15 but who lost by 599 votes at the last election, seemed set to capitalise on the city’s overwhelming remain-voting population, and wrest the seat back from Labour by highlighting the Lib Dems’ unique position in promising a vote on the Brexit deal.

Six weeks later, the picture is very different. The Labour candidate, Daniel Zeichner, who beat Huppert in 2015, is inclined to believe that he can hold on to the seat. Labour’s tuition fee promise and Corbyn’s confident campaign has been popular with students (about 4,000–5,000 of whom are believed to be registered to vote). But there is still caution in the Labour campaign team, who point out that there may be uncounted shy Conservative and Lib Dem voters.

Huppert has fought an energetic campaign, and remains popular in Cambridge, but he has not been helped by the party’s national campaign – Farron’s prevarication on gay sex is one of the few things that has cut through, and has been damaging. Although 74% of Cambridge voters wanted to stay in the EU, Europe is competing with the NHS, austerity, and management of the economy as the No 1 issue for voters.

The idea that anger over the Brexit vote would translate easily into a Lib Dem victory no longer seems very persuasive. The Cambridge politics professor David Runciman says: “At the beginning of the campaign people would have felt surprised if the Lib Dems didn’t win Cambridge. Now people will be surprised if they do win. The balance of probability has shifted.”

The Conservative candidate, John Hayward, is obstinately upbeat – presumably hoping to scoop up the 2,668 votes Ukip won in 2015 (they haven’t stood a candidate this time), but few expect him to win. It looks like it will be incredibly close. Amelia Gentleman

My first impression reporting from Harrow West was that, with such a small majority (2,208), pretty much anything could swing it, but that the Conservatives locally were unlikely to be central to making that happen. Within three days I’d made contact with all the main parties except the Tories. Though we finally connected by email, I never got to meet anyone in person. Their failure to show up at two hustings and the fact that, a few weeks in, no one in the focus group had heard much from them, made me wonder how seriously they were taking what I had assumed was a target marginal.

The two things I saw change while I was there was the countervailing trajectories of the two main parties. Labour’s vote seemed to harden, while the Tory vote seemed to soften. I wouldn’t want to make too great a claim for that. The Conservative voters were still Conservative and Labour voters were still Labour. But the former seemed less sure and the latter more so; and at the fringes I assume that will make a difference in who will turn out on the day. Also, less than two years since my return from the US, I thought we had a welfare state to protect the most vulnerable; after a few hours in the Law Centre and Citizens Advice, I no longer think that.

The terrorist attacks truncated what I could do. I had planned one more article on how the minority ethnic vote would break down. Anecdotally I’d heard that things were breaking down on both religious and national levels, with a considerable proportion of the British-Indian vote going Tory. I know that’s not new, but apparently it is gaining pace and I’d have loved to have explored that more. Gary Younge

Loitering around Hartlepool’s town centre, notebook in hand, it felt like this might be a long, futile assignment. People did not want to talk politics. Asked six weeks ago how they felt about an imminent election, most would shrug and grunt: “I’m sick of it,” or words to that effect.

It was the first indication of the pervasive disillusionment that runs through Hartlepool, a town with double the national unemployment rate, nearly a third of children living in poverty, and more than its fair share of the most deprived wards in the country. Little wonder that nearly 70% of Hartlepudlians voted for Brexit, giving a bloody nose to the establishment.

Labour, which has held Hartlepool since 1964, has seen its share of the vote plummet from 60.7% in 1997 to 35.6% two years ago, as turnout has fallen to almost the lowest in the country. The post-industrial town seems like fertile ground for Ukip, which came second by just over 3,000 votes two years ago. The party still has core support in the toughest pockets of Hartlepool, but the feeling among most pragmatic voters is that Ukip has had its day. That leaves a question about whether Ukip voters will revert back to Labour, or whether Paul Nuttall’s party has been a handy gateway to the Conservatives.

Six weeks ago it felt like the Tories could triumph in Hartlepool, despite lingering resentment at the Thatcher-era decline in heavy industry. But May’s recent missteps appear to have cut through with voters, many of whom mentioned her social care U-turn and TV debate no-show in a focus group last week. Labour hopes the Tories and Ukip will cannibalise each other’s vote. It would be an uneasy victory for the party that has held this town for half a century, but it might be the best it can hope for. Josh Halliday

Labour’s vote collapsed in Glasgow East in the electoral tsunami of 2015 and, despite the best efforts of local candidate Kate Watson, over the weeks of the Guardian’s reporting there was little sign of a revival.

If there was any electoral shock it was the small surge in support for another local candidate, 20-year-old Conservative candidate Thomas Kerr, who was elected to be one of the councillors in Shettleston, one of the most deprived wards in this sprawling constituency.

Along with the shock of the local election result came anger and a sense of betrayal in this previously impregnable scarlet citadel, an inner-city area which has long been defined by endemic poverty and a cradle-to-grave reliance on public welfare. “A Tory in this area? I can’t believe it. Once they get in, they’ll be lucky to stay in. It’s a ballot box miscount if you ask me,” said Barry O’Hara, an unemployed optician’s technician who I met on Shettleston Road. As we dodged the drug addicts and the news sank in, O’Hara became incandescent. Not long after, Kerr was named as the Tory candidate for the general election.

Out on the road, Kerr was confident and assured. But this election was the Scottish National party’s to lose, with predictions of a near landslide. Like Kerr and Watson, David Linden, 27, was born and bred in Glasgow East. He went into the election with the wind at his back, but was taking nothing for granted, putting in 12 hours days to advance the arguments for the SNP.

Glasgow East was once one of the safest Labour seats in the UK. The constituency had voted Labour since the 1930s before switching to the SNP in a 2008 byelection. Labour took the seat back in 2010, only to lose it again in the 2015 general election when the entire city moved from Labour to the SNP. All indications on the streets are that it will stay that way. Lisa O’Carroll

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