THE canny folk of Tamworth, in the heart of Middle England, usually know which way the political wind is blowing.
The locals of Tamworth have a knack for voting the right way in elections[/caption]
The Tories are backing candidate Andrew Cooper, a local councillor and former Army sniper in the Staffordshire Regiment[/caption]
The 68-year-old retired project manager told me with a smirk: “I think I will vote Labour, though I’m not telling my husband.
“I’ve always voted Conservative but I think it needs a change. Let’s give Labour a chance and see what they can do.”
But while some voters seem ready to ditch the Tories, few I spoke to were enthused by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.
Mum-of-two Judith said: “There’s just something about him I don’t like. I think he’s a bit of a show-off.”
He resigned last month after being suspended from Parliament for drunkenly groping two men at a private members’ club last summer — revealed in a Sun exclusive.
Tamworth is something of a Petri dish for some of the Tories’ key policies.
Meanwhile the Government’s levelling-up agenda has seen Tam-worth receive a £22million boost from its regeneration fund to spruce up its main shopping street.
But the ruthless amputation of the northern leg of HS2 this month means the high-speed rail line will now end at Handsacre, 14 miles from the centre of Tamworth.
Derek Nickells, owner of the town’s Toolbox hardware shop, said: “HS2 should have started in the North and branched down. If you started it, you should have finished it.”
Derek, 56, who has run the store in Market Street for 25 years, says he is “sticking with the Conservatives” because their candidate “seems like a good local guy”.
The Tories are fielding Andrew Cooper, a local councillor and former Army sniper in the Staffordshire Regiment.
Chatting in the shadow of Tamworth Castle, Mr Cooper, 41, who served in Kosovo and Iraq, told me he was as “disappointed as anyone else” over the Chris Pincher scandal.
And the dad of four said scrapping the Manchester leg of HS2 would free up cash for local rail improvements and filling potholes in the town.
Tamworth currently has a Tory majority of almost 20,000, won by disgraced MP Chris Pincher[/caption]
Teacher Suzie Glasgow, 40, said: ‘I’ll probably vote Labour. I’ve had four Labour canvassers knocking at my door but none from the Conservatives.’[/caption]
As for housing asylum seekers locally, he doesn’t believe the Holiday Inn Express is the right place, adding: “It has had an impact on tourism and the economics of the town.
“A lot of people in the summer would have liked to stay at the hotel because it’s opposite the castle grounds, which is our events space, but they couldn’t get a room.”
Labour’s candidate, trade union organiser Sarah Edwards, 35, has campaigned to protect greenfield land, boost public services and tackle the cost-of-living crisis.
Despite repeated requests from The Sun, she wasn’t available for an interview.
By-election handlers sometimes keep their candidate under wraps if they think they are in a winning position.
It ensures their charges don’t come down with a last-minute case of foot in mouth.
Turning around a 20,000 majority would be a resounding achievement.
On a recent visit to the town, Labour Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves said: “No one underestimates the scale of the challenge in this by-election, but there are no no-go areas for Labour.”
Bustling Market Street is dominated by a statue of Sir Robert Peel — once the town’s MP and one of the founders of the modern Conservative Party.
Last summer, when the Pincher affair made headlines, locals joked: “The Conservative Party was born in Tamworth in 1834 (when Peel was elected). It died in Tamworth in 2022.”
Nearby, fishmonger Martin Bowater is an ex-Tory voter who now “won’t vote for anybody”.
The 58-year-old dad of three, who has had his stall in the market for 15 years, told me: “I voted Brexit on the promise something would change. I wanted control of our borders but it’s got worse. I’ve been let down by this Government.
“Sir Keir Starmer is certainly not the answer. I don’t trust him.”
Shopper Sharon Conway won’t vote for either the Tories or Labour.
The 58-year-old mum of three said: “The Government has done so much damage. The cost of living has doubled and they haven’t done enough to stop the boats.
“And HS2 — what a waste of money when you’ve got people in poverty.”
Others will vote Labour despite misgivings over Sir Keir.
Leah Summers, 21, who is joining the Navy, said: “I want my vote to count so I’d go Labour. I think Keir Starmer talks a big game. I haven’t seen him act as much as I thought he would have done.
“He seems passionate but I’m not really convinced.”
Lorraine Taylor, 53, has been impacted by the cost-of-living crisis and says: “I’m a nursery teacher and I’ve had to take on a second job working in a pub. I do 50 to 60 hours a week.”
The mum of two, who has yet to decide who she will vote for, added: “I don’t think Rishi Sunak is leading the country in the right direction.
“I don’t think Keir Starmer has come up with any solutions at all. He just waffles on.”
And secondary school teacher Suzie Glasgow, 40, said: “I’ll probably vote Labour. I’ve had four Labour canvassers knocking at my door but none from the Conservatives.”
Retired electronics engineer Ronald Skett, 78, who voted for Tony Blair in 1997, is not so happy with the current man at the top of the Labour Party.
He said: “I think Keir Starmer is a member of the establishment. He’s a knight of the realm.
“He’s lost touch. He started as blue- collar, went white-collar then went establishment.”
He added: “I won’t vote on Thursday. We’ll be voting again next year. What’s the point?”
To win in Tamworth, Labour needs a 21.4 per cent swing.
It’s doable — in July, Labour snatched Selby and Ainsty in North Yorks from the Tories on a swing of 23.7 points, and the Lib Dems won Somerton and Frome in Somerset on an even bigger swing of 29 points.
A Tory insider insisted that Tamworth is a “Conservative town”, adding: “What we’re finding on the doorsteps is that people are still Conservative — they just need a reason to go out and vote.”
The bookies have Labour as heavy 4/1-on favourites to claim the seat.
One former Tamworth councillor tells me he believes the town will plump for Labour on Thursday — then go back to the Tories at next year’s General Election.
Rishi Sunak will hope he’s right. For whichever way Tamworth swings, the rest of the nation usually follows.
Business owner Derek Nickells said: ‘HS2 should have started in the north and branched down. If you started it, you should have finished it.’[/caption]
Lorraine Taylor, 53, says: ‘I’m a nursery teacher and I’ve had to take on a second job working in a pub’[/caption]
Tory voters, such as Judith Lumley, are ready for Tamworth to switch to Labour again[/caption]
Shopper Sharon Conway, left, won’t vote for either the Tories or Labour[/caption]
Fishmonger Martin Bowater told The Sun: ‘Sir Keir Starmer is certainly not the answer. I don’t trust him.’[/caption]