POLITICS

Analysis: What Watford's HuffPost UK-Edelman Focus Group Tells Us About The General Election

'Big sigh.'

27/05/2017 17:01 BST | Updated 27/05/2017 18:24 BST

“It’s slim pickings,” said Mel, a team leader for a retail company with two children.

At this one phrase, the eight other former Lib Dem voters at the HuffPost UK-Edelman focus group in Watford on Thursday all nodded and sighed.

If there is one thing these voters are telling the political class - it is that they are deeply unenthused about the choices they have been presented with at this election.

They will vote. But if Theresa May does secure the landslide some have predicted, these voters will be shuffling to the ballot box not skipping.

HuffPost UK

All nine of the men and women in the group said they planned to vote Tory on June 8. And the way the Watford goes, traditionally so does the country. 

The seat was Tory under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, Labour under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and Conservative again under David Cameron. 

On the back of Cleggmania, The Lib Dems came close, 1,425 votes close, in 2010 to capturing the seat. The town has a Lib Dem mayor in the shape of Dorothy Thornhill.

Clegg was seen as “brilliant” by the group. And interesting, “trustworthy”, despite the tuition fees u-turn.

But none of these former Lib Dem voters showed any sign of moving back to the party which was seen to have “lost its way” under Tim Farron. The Lib Dem leader was dismissed as “weak” and “shifty” by people who only seven years ago had voted for his party.

The focus group also illuminated what could be the story of the election - even many Remain votes are resigned to, or accepting of, Brexit. Tory fears that the Lib Dems would snatch seats from them across the south West, in London and beyond appear to have receded.

And the Lib Dem gamble of betting pro-EU voters would flock to them next month in order to protest against a hard Brexit does not seem to be paying off in this south England commuter town. Gloria, a customer service adviser with two children at university, was deeply sceptical of Farron’s plan for a second referendum. “No we can’t change it. We’ve made a decision,” she said. “I voted to remain but its what happened. Laboratory technician Van agreed with a shrug. 

When we asked what they would do if they were prime minister for one day, Brexit was mentioned only once. Schools, health and social care and terrorism dominated the agenda. As Vince Cable told HuffPost UK in a campaign trail interview, it is the “bread and butter” issues that voters are bringing up on the doorstep now, not Brexit.

Social care was the policy these likely Tory voters were most focused on - but despite the “duplicity”, as Tony put it, their anger about it would not stop them voting for May.

It was not much better for Jeremy Corbyn. Labour was barely mentioned. And it when it was, it was not in glowing terms. The party was described by John, a father of two who works in IT and voted for Brexit, as in “disarray”. Lindsay, who works part time at a soft furnishing company and has three children, actually said the words “big sigh” when asked for her opinion of the Opposition. “What a mess,” was the conclusion of Van.

Tony, who has three grown up children and used to work in a university, said “large numbers of people looking at this lot” would like something new. “You’re not represented by any of the choice on offer,” he said.

But there was no great belief a new party could emerge to make the political picking less slim. Tony believed any new party formed from the center-left would be destined to failure just as the SDP did in the 1980s unless the “left of the Conservative Party” also agreed to break away.

Watford’s sitting MP, Richard Harrington, has a majority of 9,794. And on the basis of the focus group, he does not need to worry about being unseated. And therefore, if the pattern continues, neither does May.

 

HuffPost UK is looking at voters’ priorities outside the hubbub of the election campaign trail and what they want beyond March 29, 2019, not just June 8, 2017. Beyond Brexit leaves the bubble of Westminster and London talk to Britons left out of the conversation on the subjects they really care about, like housing, integration, social care, school funding and air qualityThe members of the focus group, 

NOTE: This focus groups was made up of people aged 35-70 from social grade BC1 who voted Lib Dem in 2010 and are likely to vote Tory on June 8. It was conducted on Thursday 25 May.