Chingford voters seek change as former Tory heartland becomes marginal – The Guardian

Posted in Tattoo Shop on Dec 03, 2019

For three uninterrupted decades, in every election since 1989, Francis Roads has voted Green. Through the final gasp of Thatcherism, the Major years, the hope and disillusion of New Labour and the chilly decade of coalition and Tory austerity, he has stuck to his environmental principles and resisted the urge to vote tactically.

Until last month, that is, when at a party meeting in his constituency of Chingford and Woodford Green, Roads was one of a number of members to suggest their candidate stand down to help elect Labours candidate.

The move which was adopted did not delight the partys leadership, but to Roads, a retired teacher and musician, there was no doubt that it was time, at last, to change his vote. Why? Well, because this seat has now become marginal, he says, and I really would like to see the end of Iain Duncan Smith, who I think is a dreadful man.

Roads and his wife, Judith, also a retired teacher and musician, moved to their bay-fronted semi-detached house close to the North Circular ring road that runs through suburban north-east London, in 1971. They are concerned about policing and how long it takes to get a doctors appointment, ashamed of the need for food banks and of the fact that homeless people are now common even here.

But it is the prospect of Brexit which appalls them that has driven them to drastic measures. Even if the worst comes to the worst and we get that dreadful [Boris] Johnson again, if we could at least get Duncan Smith out it would be a Christmas present, says Judith.

Chingford and Woodford Green is not the kind of seat where one might expect dramatic electoral reversals. This has long been deep blue Tory country, the current constituency made up of seats whose previous MPs include Norman Tebbit and Winston Churchill. Duncan Smith has been MP here for 27 years, during which time he has (briefly) led his party, been a key architect of austerity most notably the loathed universal credit and an outspoken advocate of hard Brexit as a member of the ERG.

But since 2010, his majority has been steadily shrinking, and Labour now scents blood. The partys candidate, Faiza Shaheen, has an army of hundreds of activists and a seductive backstory an Oxford-educated economist who grew up in a working class family in the constituency and has vowed she will never stand anywhere else.

One profile described her as Britains AOC referencing another young leftwing woman who ousted a longtime incumbent and at least one polling research company has identified Duncan Smith as being in very serious jeopardy on 12 December.

With Epping Forest and some leafy corners of Essex on its borders, there are certainly parts of the constituency that are extremely comfortable, their streets lined with grand, mid-century villas and big cars.

Other areas, however, are much less flashy, and like many suburbs of the capital and other big cities, this is an area in transition, with families and individuals priced out of central London moving in to an area busy with construction and bringing their politics with them. Walthamstow, where Labours Stella Creasy has a huge majority, is just to the south, and despite Chingfords ultra-Brexiter MP, the constituency voted by a knife-edge margin for remain in 2016.

The effects of austerity, in any event, can touch anyone. Anne Haysman lives with her husband and 16-year-old son, Freddie, near Chingfords smart high street, an area where, she acknowledges, most people are comfortably off. But Freddie is severely autistic, and Haysman has seen his access to specialist short-break care giving him somewhere to play safely during weekends and school holidays being slashed as government funding for the Labour-led local authority has been cut by 120m since 2011, even as demand for special needs and disability provision has risen by 20%, according to the council.

The result, she says, is that families like ours find its very hard to have their kids around all day with very little for them to do. Her son, she says is mischievous and stubborn, taking great pleasure in the things he enjoys like swimming and being outdoors. But as he gets older and physically stronger, she feels less confident taking him on outings by herself, and so one of the things he ends up doing is spending a lot of time inside watching YouTube videos.

Closing a few play centres for children with special needs might not seem like a massive thing, but it is all chipping away, making life, which is already difficult, that bit more difficult. She is angry, she admits, and concerned about what happens when Freddie leaves school at 19. Everyone tells me that if you think things are bad now, adult social care is much worse.

Despite some reservations about Corbyn, Haysman will vote Labour, and says that, for her, it feels particularly personal. I do think so, because if you vote Tory you are voting to make the lives of people who are struggling, people with disabilities, youre making their lives more difficult.

Having witnessed a serious assault in the middle of the afternoon earlier this year, Haysman is also concerned about crime and policing a theme which, in a Guardian callout to constituents that received more than 200 replies, came up again and again. Woodford police station is one of almost 100 that have closed to the public in London since 2012; the number of Metropolitan police officers assigned to the wider Waltham Forest area fell by more than 10% in the two years to 2018.

Stories of burglaries and car crime were common from those who contacted the Guardian one respondent said casual crime was evident and even expected near his home in Woodford.

Its a concern felt keenly by Lee Marcu, whose barbers and tattoo shop the CutFather sits opposite a large retail estate in Highams Park, to the south of the constituency. Having opened the shop two years ago aged just 24, he would love to see some help for small business owners from the new government. But after being burgled twice in the past year, his biggest concern is crime.

Nothing much was taken from the till he does not keep his takings in the shop overnight but with 1,200 excess on his insurance, it wasnt worth making a claim to replace his damaged door, locks and, in one case, 400 worth of products. Im just a young business owner trying to make a living. If someone breaks in, you can end up spending thousands, and no one knows about it.

Marcu doesnt like to blame the police, but who could help? He has begun asking his neighbouring shop owners and even residents if theyd like to chip in to pay for private security, though the logistics of making it happen, he is finding out, are complicated.

Im not being funny, but Im here 10 hours a day, six days a week, Im working, working, working and for small business owners like myself to have to go out and create a neighbourhood watch I just feel we are having no backing from our [politicians].

He will definitely vote, he says I think everyone has to vote but has no idea how. I believe everyone has to do their research, but Ill be honest with you, at the minute I am not happy with whatever I am seeing on the news.

There is no denying, however, that there are some perhaps many in the constituency, who are broadly content with the direction of travel of the previous government, and would like to see more of the same. Steve Holman, a graphic designer, moved to Woodford Green with his wife about 20 years ago, and while his street has certainly changed in that time, we all get on, its still got a nice feel. If you are out washing your car on a Sunday afternoon, people will stop and say hello.

He was in two minds on Brexit in 2016, he admits, but ultimately voted to leave, and feels increasingly frustrated that it has not happened. Because there is a feeling people want Brexit done, and IDS is known for that, I think he will get the support. Fundamentally, Holman believes, Chingford and Woodford Green is still Tory at heart. It feels like one of those areas where people have a sense of getting on, working hard, owning your own property. It all sounds very cliched, but its true.

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Chingford voters seek change as former Tory heartland becomes marginal - The Guardian

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