UK Politics

All eyes on Wythenshawe by-election

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Media captionThe outcome of the Wythenshawe contest is being closely watched at Westminster

"I have lived in the area all my life. I've had businesses in the area all my life. I am passionate about Wythenshawe, I love Wythenshawe," says Simon Delaney, landlord of the Firbank pub.

As we walk through the town centre, it seems like every second person knows him.

And, like thousands of others here, his letterbox has swallowed plenty of political leaflets in the last few weeks.

This by-election was caused by the death of the former Labour minister Paul Goggins.

Image caption Publican Simon Delaney says people in Wythenshawe are starting to spend more money

This part of Greater Manchester, Wythenshawe and Sale East, has been a Labour seat for aeons and campaigning here feels relatively low-key.

But, like any by election, it involves real votes in real ballot boxes and so, imperfect as it might be, will be interpreted as an insight into the popularity or otherwise of the parties.

For Mr Delaney, things are looking up.

"Business is good. It is improving year by year. Over the last three years it has got better and better. People are spending," he says.

This is the 17th by-election since the last general election, but arguably the first since the economy has shown sustained signs of revival.

Image caption Tracy McDonald fears for the future of young people in the constituency

But not everyone is so optimistic.

Unemployment here stands at 8%, above the national average.

At Wythenshawe FM, a community radio station, presenter Tracy McDonald says some locals are worried about being left behind economically.

"There is a real issue too with a lack of housing. It's a big problem here," she adds.

"And the big problem, which listeners mention all the time, is a lack of facilities for young people. They have nothing to do."

While this has long been a safe Labour seat, at the last election the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats still had a sold base of support.

Predominantly working-class Wythenshawe is solidly Labour, but leafier Sale offered the other two big parties a chance.

There was a swing to the Conservatives at the 2010 general election and the party took one in four votes.

The Liberal Democrat performance roughly matched their national average, with around 23% of the vote.

Image caption Rob Ford says two battles are going on - between Labour and the Lib Dems, and the Conservatives and UKIP

But what has changed since is the rise of UKIP, which finished fifth here last time.

The party has chalked up five second-place finishes in by-elections in the last three-and-a-half years, four of them in safe Labour seats.

Upbeat activists are trundling around the place in a purple minibus emblazoned with the slogan "Here comes common sense".

They expect to finish second again.

"This seat is a microcosm of what we are seeing in national politics at the moment," Dr Rob Ford of Manchester University says.

"There are two two-party battles going on simultaneously. On the one hand, Labour are looking to recruit Liberal Democrat support and solidify their majority here. And over on the right the battle is between the Conservatives and UKIP."

UKIP will hope their pitch resonates with Labour-leaning voters and not just those inclined towards the Conservatives.

Whatever the outcome, the result will shape the mood and mojo of all the main parties activists as they shape up for the next campaign, the local and European Parliament elections in May.

Confirmed candidates so far (in alphabetical order):

  • John Bickley (UK Independence Party)
  • Captain Chaplington-Smythe (Monster Raving Loony Party)
  • Rev Daniel Critchlow (Conservative)
  • Mary Di Mauro (Liberal Democrat)
  • Michael Kane (Labour)
  • Eddy O'Sullivan (British National Party)
  • Nigel Woodcock (Green Party)

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