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Haggling for votes at Frome's cattle market

Dave Harvey | 11:35 UK time, Friday, 30 April 2010

I pulled into Frome market just as the Holstein calves went under the hammer. The auction rings are new here, plenty of room for farmers and animals alike, and a huge yard outside for the inevitable bacon joints and Tupperware stalls that flock to a rural market like wasps to a barbecue. But the scene hasn't really changed for decades.

Farmers at Frome Market

"Fifty pound fifty five sixty anyone gimme sixty ok fifty eight thanyou fifty eight fifty nine ok sixty now you're coming sixty five no sixty three no-one at all ok sixty going at SIXTY" and BANG goes the stick on the wood.

Paddy Ashdown was at the cattle market just before me, hawking his wares. Somerset is, of course, a Lib Dem heartland, but Frome is now a real battle. The Conservatives are coming, just hundreds of votes in it last time, and David Cameron's aides had already chalked it up as a likely victory in their march to No 10.

But the debates have changed all that. Now, Somerton & Frome is one of the seats the Lib Dems might hold, their voters encouraged by Cleggmania that an orange vote is not a wasted vote. So the farmers and Tupperware traders of the market are under siege as never before.

You have to get your message across fast in a market. So I knock up a big old fashioned board, with my simple question. "Who can get Frome back in business?" above three mug shots of the party leaders.

The big question in Frome

"You stick 'em all in a bag, and put your hand in, pull one out and - well, you wouldn't be any better off with any one of them I don't think." The man's a sheep farmer. He seems well-used to this kind of decision-making. But his sentiment is popular.

Many scuttle away as I approach. "We've had enough politics, thank you!" they call over their shoulders. "You can keep the lot of 'em!" shouts another.

By the sheep lines my placard sparks a healthy debate. "I reckon he!" laughs an older sheep farmer to his friend, rapping Nick Clegg's face with his crook, "give 'e a chance!". "No, he's all talk," his friend barks back, tapping David Cameron instead, "we've gotta vote for him, or we're sunk."

Outside, there's a general goods and chattels sale underway. Kids bikes, golf trolleys, a rather nice Victorian chimney pot which goes begging at two quid. I quite fancy it for my rhubarb, but with the placard I'd struggle to carry it away.

A knot of men in plaid shirts tap Mr Cameron's hopeful face. "He's the best of the lot," says one. "This chap (Clegg) he's ok, but he's got a lot to learn."
"Yeah," chips in another, "and this is no time for learners is it?"

Chatting to farmers at Frome MarketBut Mr Clegg has good solid support too. An antiques trader searching for hidden gems tells me he's not voted for 40 years, since he was 18. But this time, he will.
"Do you know what? They've been in so many times (Conservative) and they've been in so many times (Labour), why not give them a chance, you know?" and he points decisively to Nick Clegg.

Frome's streets are pock-marked with empty shops. Traders in the main market tell me their takings are down by hundreds of pounds a day. The recession is the grim backdrop to this election, here as everywhere.

But here's the thing. Is the economy a deciding issue? I don't hear anyone choosing between rival policies. There's no talk of 'cut now or cut later'. Even National Insurance is off the radar. Instead, traders, farmers, businessmen weigh up the candidates just as anyone else is doing - on character, personality, impression.

It's as if Frome knows the town - and the country - has an economic headache. They just don't believe any of the parties have any magic medicine.

There's more on the election in Somerton & Frome here, with details of all candidates standing.


  • Comment number 1.

    When are you going to acknowledge the fact that there are more than three parties standing in this election? You and your colleagues have airbrushed out the Greens, UKIP, The Libertarians and the Independents. Whilst they will not form a government they could possibly play an important part in a hung parliament - and yet you choose not to discuss them with the public.

    I believe that this is a perversion of democracy.

  • Comment number 2.

    I concur with Pat Bryant. Throughout this campaign it seems there has been a conspiracy by the media to keep UKIP (in particular) off our screens. I say "in particular" because they came 2nd here in the West in June last year but this seems to have made little difference to the Points West team or the media in general.
    So far as representing the interests of the small businesses are concerned UKIP alone (once out of the EU) can cut their red tape and over burdened state bureaucracy thereby allowing small businesses to thrive.
    Pat says "They can't win" but I say give all parties fighting 400 plus seats (thus able to form a government) equal publicity and then we'll see who can win! If the EU elections are any guide Labour and Lib-Dems will be left miles behind.

  • Comment number 3.

    There is one thing that I am very passionate about and I appeal to the country as a whole; we cannot, we must not vote Labour back into power. They have been an unmitigated disaster for this country. Immigration is out of control and they have no answers.They have virtually given our sovereignty to the unelected quangos in Europe and STILL no referendum. We have a health service that have been given billions of pounds and managers have helped themselves to large pay rises while the medical professionals get nothing. Education - well targets just don't work but they can't see that! We are suffering from one of the worse resessions of modern times and I point the finger firmly at Brown and his disastrous fiscal policities during his tenure at No 11 - then he has the audacity to point the finger of blame across the pond to the States! Brown got us into this mess why does he think he is the only one to get us out of this mess? History shows us that every time Labour get into power, one of two things happen:- either the pound gets devalued or we are taken to the edge of bankrupcy - as we are at the moment. I have been following the Chilcot enquiry and the only Labour polititian who could give a straight answer to a straight question was Clare Short. Blair and Brown just sidestepped questions they didn't want to answer. An appauling display fron our so-called leaders.
    As for Clegg well I don't agree with his proposal to give an amesty to all illegal immigrants - we are an island that is a finite size. For our population to reach 70 million is not sustainable. I don't agree with his policy on Trident - I think we need a nuclear deterrant. And I certainly don't agree with his policy on Europe. They are bleeding us dry and the way we are at the moment we could very well follow Greece. It will be interesting to see what happens after the election when cuts will have to be made - the unions won't like it one little bit and I beleive it is only a matter of time before they start throwing the toys out of the pram!


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