General election 2019: What do constituents think in Dudley and West Bromwich?

Media caption,
Ian Austin's constituents react to his comments

Two longstanding Labour MPs have quit their roles within hours of each other - with one urging people to vote for the Conservatives over Jeremy Corbyn. What do people living in their constituencies in the Black Country have to say?

Charles Flavell had already made his mind up which way he'd be voting before he read a damning interview from his former Labour - then independent - MP Ian Austin in his local newspaper.

Mr Austin told the Express & Star he had to "do everything I can to stop Jeremy Corbyn from getting into power", as he announced he would not contest his Dudley North seat in the election.

He is not standing for re-election and neither is former deputy leader Tom Watson, who represented constituents in West Bromwich East.

Like Mr Austin, Mr Flavell, an 84-year-old former till maker and a lifelong Labour supporter, is backing Boris Johnson.

Image caption,
Charles Flavell has previously voted for Ian Austin, but said he would be voting Conservative for the first time at the December election

"I think Ian Austin is right," he said, as he shopped with his wife Pat in Dudley High Street.

"It was a family tradition for us to always vote Labour and we've voted for Mr Austin in the past.

"But for the first time in my life I'll be voting Tory and that's because of Brexit.

"I don't like the deal but I think it's better than no deal and we should be backing Boris Johnson."

Mr Austin has been the MP for Dudley North, a key marginal seat, since 2005. He beat the Conservatives by just 22 votes in 2017.

His political career started as a Labour councillor in Dudley in his 20s and he later worked as a press officer for Gordon Brown.

But his loyalty to the party ended in February this year when he announced he was becoming an Independent.

He blamed Mr Corbyn for "creating a culture of extremism and intolerance" and accused the Labour leadership of failing to tackle anti-Semitism in the party.

But constituents were divided over his latest criticism of the Labour leader.

Lifelong Labour voter Susan Franklin said Mr Austin's comments were "absolutely disgusting and disrespectful".

"Labour should stick together," the 44-year-old retail worker said. "Anything said like this should be said behind closed doors."

Image caption,
Patrick Smith said he was "a Labour voter" and would "never" cast his ballot otherwise

Patrick Smith, 29, from Dudley, agreed.

As he waited to meet a friend, he described Mr Austin's words as "nonsense" - and they certainly won't make him change his mind at the ballot box.

"I'm a Labour voter and never in a million years would I vote otherwise," he said.

"It's OK to be against remaining in Europe but the Tory policies as a whole are shoddy so to come out and say Boris Johnson is going to be the answer is nonsense."

Estate agent Jake Field, 23, from Sedgley, described Mr Austin's comments as "morally wrong" and said he had "betrayed his party".

But he added: "Labour is useless and that's why he's saying to vote Boris."

Image caption,
Jake Field said he believed Mr Austin had "betrayed his party"

Mary Hodgitts, who was in the town with her neighbour Elaine Fellows, 70, said she had voted for Mr Austin in the past.

"I think he's honest and always tries to get things done and move things forward," said the 82-year-old.

"Now I know what he's said I think I would vote Conservative, to be honest with you."

Mr Austin's comments are a reflection on "how messy" politics have become, according to Michaela Jayne, 33.

"I don't think he should be trying to stop any political leader from getting in a position of power, I think it sets a dangerous example," she said.

"People should be able to judge who to vote for by comparing the policies, like which party is best for the NHS, schools, public services, what's best for working class people."

Cottage Bakers boss Erkan Yildizsabah says he will be backing the new Labour candidate in Dudley North.

"I support Labour. I've always voted for Ian Austin and I will still vote for Labour, I don't think the Tories are good on economic issues."

The 45-year-old, who lives in the town, said he may not agree with Mr Corbyn on every issue, but added: "My point is that whoever is Labour Party leader, they should keep the core Labour ideas and that is what he is doing."

Image source, Express & Star
Image caption,
The MPs, pictured here before Mr Watson's seven stone weight loss, both served as ministers under Gordon Brown

Just a few miles away in West Bromwich, constituents are also preparing for change after their longstanding MP Mr Watson stood down after 18 years.

Like Dudley North, West Bromwich East has been Labour since it was created in 1974 and Mr Watson has held the seat since 2001.

He said the decision was "personal, not political" and that he would continue to campaign for the party.

Image caption,
Ray Poball said Mr Watson, a Remain MP in a constituency that voted Leave, had been in a difficult position

Claire Phillips, 41, of Tividale, said Mr Watson's decision was "a shame for West Brom because he's put a lot of time and effort into our local community".

"But unfortunately he didn't have the backing from Corbyn," said the Conservative voter, citing Mr Watson as a "better fit" as party leader.

One shopper who did not want to be named, said: "I think he had no choice.

"It's a shame because he's done a lot of good things for West Brom. He was local, you know, he was good. I would have voted Labour if he was still in.

"But with Corbyn now, I'll be voting Tory."

Ray Poball, 47, an accountant, currently not working due to disability, from Halesowen, said: "I think he was in a difficult position because 66% of his constituents voted to Leave but he was a Remainer.

"So I think he did the right thing in stepping down and stepping aside if he couldn't deliver the Brexit his constituents wanted."

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