Constituencies based upon coalfields have long been safe havens for Labour, especially in recent decades after the closing of many of the mines have been attributed to Thatcher’s term as Prime Minister. This misguided attribution is one of the greatest examples of spin that Labour have ever produced, no one ever recalls Harold Wilson when they think of the closure of the mines, despite Labour closing many more mines during their time in office than Maggie ever did; this led to the creation of many ultra-safe seats that coincided with the landslide victory of Tony Blair.
Constituencies such as Hemsworth in West Yorkshire, Bolsover and Shirebrook on the Derbyshire Coalfield, Ashfield and Mansfield in Nottinghamshire and Nuneaton in Warwickshire are all prime examples of seats that have remained red for decades. These seats all saw Labour majorities in the tens of thousands in the 1997 Labour landslide, but all of these seats have more recently seen a trend towards the Conservatives. Nuneaton was one of the first strongholds to fall with Marcus Jones securing it for the Conservatives in 2010 and subsequently increasing his majority to 10.3% as it stands today and most recently the 2017 General Election saw Ben Bradley take Mansfield for the first time in its 132 year history, overturning the 5320 majority of Sir Alan Meale.
Nuneaton and Mansfield are not isolated incidents, Gloria De Peiro’s seat of Ashfield, with its majority of almost 9000 in 2015 was once but a distant dream of the Conservatives is now a Labour/Conservative marginal with a majority of just 400 votes. Hemsworth has seen the Labour majority reduced from 23,992 in 1997 to 10,174 today and even the Beast of Bolsover has seen his consistently large majority reduced to just over 5000 votes. This is truly a trend that is sweeping across the country and in future elections to come, these coalfields are going to become electoral battlefields.
Conservative campaigners in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire
In my home constituency of Ashfield there is still a bad taste left in the mouth at the utterance of Thatcher’s name, but there are two factors now that are changing the political makeup of the seat; the first is that for decades Ashfield has been a deprived town, that has seen little investment, little growth and little help from its elected representatives. Ashfield has been neglected and its residents are slowly but surely starting to ask the question of “What has Labour done for us in all these years?”. The second factor comes from the changing face of the Conservative Party, the Conservative party has historically and traditionally been the party of the rich, made up of the rich, but in the last three decades there has been a significant shift. Thatcher made it her mission to help escalate working class people into home ownership, David Cameron tore up the book on being socially conservative and created the most inclusive party we have seen to this day and Theresa May is dedicated her term in office to help those who are just about managing. In contrast, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party have abandoned their working roots, they are the party of Islington’s champagne socialists and of middle-class students. They no longer represent the working class, instead, they seek to patronise and control the working class and the residents of Ashfield are waking up to this.
This is the feeling you will find across many coalfields and former mining communities, the battlegrounds have changed and slowly people’s tribal allegiances are changing too. Britain’s coalfields will become the battlegrounds of the future.