16 Jun 2024

What do Tory heartland voters want? A view from East Sussex

Culture Correspondent

The election campaign rumbles on with the polls continuing to show a Labour majority as the likeliest outcome.

To get a sense of public opinion we’ve been deep into the traditional Tory heartlands of East Sussex to board the historic Bluebell railway.

Minnie Stephenson: A trainspotter’s paradise as the Bluebell Railway canters through the Sussex countryside in a Conservative stronghold. We’re jumping on board to ask a captive audience whether the general election has been an exhilarating ride so far, or not dissimilar to a delayed train from hell.

We meet Jo, a self-confessed leftie living in a Tory area.

Jo Quarcoopome: Basically, I’m sick to the back teeth of all of them. I think they’re out of touch because it’s the Westminster bubble, that they’ve got into a kind of habit of behaving as though they’re some sort of debating society.

Minnie Stephenson: For Jo, the cult of personality is just a distraction from the issues she wants sorted.

Jo Quarcoopome: Crumbling social services. Crumbling public services. Housing scandal that’s been going on for absolute decades. The environment. Cost of living. Just about everything, really. It seems as though nothing works properly anymore.

Minnie Stephenson: A couple of carriages along, Collette and Graham’s is a 20-year love affair, a meeting of hearts and political minds.

Colette: We met in the UK and I shut him out. I said come to my party.

Minnie Stephenson: However, do not mention the B-word to this Anglo-French couple.

What did you think of Brexit?

Colette: It’s terrible. A terrible mistake for anybody. Are you happy to wait in line at Dover to show your passport, to be fingerprinted like a criminal when you go to Europe? And are you happy to do that? That’s Brexit.

Graham: For the bulk of it all, I’ve been voting Conservative. What has put me off this time, I think that Sunak and Starmer are nice men, I’m not sure how either of them has got the temperament to run the country. But I think it’s going to be Labour, frankly, to be honest with you, and hope for the best.

Minnie Stephenson: Somewhat nervous laughter from a Labour convert. As the train rolls into the station, it’s time for some soul searching with its driver, Russell.

Russell Pearce: I am looking at who is going to secure the country, who’s going to save us from these right-wing nutjobs who are in power at the moment, who’s going to save the media from right-wing interference.

Minnie Stephenson: How do you think Rishi Sunak’s doing so far in the general election?

Russell Pearce: Well, the bloke’s just incompetent, isn’t he? He’s got no empathy with the common man. Multimillionaire. He can have no idea what it’s like to manage on a limited budget. And he’s shown no sign of being able to manage it well, still.

Minnie Stephenson: Tell us what you really think, Russell?

Russell Pearce: I could tell you what I really think, if you like.

Minnie Stephenson: We’re saved by the whistle as the train sets off again when we meet Anthony, who is a Tory voter but was disappointed with Rishi Sunak’s French exit on D-Day.

Anthony McLaughlan: I thought he was terrible at D-Day. That was not acceptable. And as an ex-air force officer, I can tell you it didn’t go down well. Apart from that, he came out better in the argument with Sir Keir Starmer.

Minnie Stephenson: For the Lancs family, election night will be a sleepless night, and not just because they have a toddler.

Dan Lancs: I’ll stay up all night for it with a couple of friends.

Minnie Stephenson: Will you really?

Dan Lancs: I will, can’t wait

Minnie Stephenson: You’re going to do an all-nighter?

Dan Lancs: We’ll eat some pizzas, eat some crisps, stay up all night.

Minnie Stephenson: What is revving you up about this general election?

Dan Lancs: If I’m honest, it’s about seeing the end of 14 years. I haven’t loved it. I think it’s about time we had a change. I just want grown-ups in the room again.

Jenny Lancs: Even some middle-class families are struggling and are at food banks. What must it be like for people who wouldn’t call themselves middle class?

Minnie Stephenson: Clearly there’s no such thing as the quiet zone on this train. Emerging out of the smoke, could there be a change in direction in this Tory heartland?