POLITICS

Edgbaston: The General Election Brexit Battleground Where Women Hold The Cards

Labour is facing a fight to hold on to exiting MP's slim majority.

06/05/2017 10:01 | Updated 06 May 2017
Huff Post UK

There is everything to play for in Birmingham Edgbaston.

Like large parts of the Midlands, it will throw up some key indicators as to the mood of the country and the likely final result of the general election.

But the Labour/Tory marginal stands out for many reasons.  Its incumbent MP, Labour’s Gisela Stuart, was one of her party’s few vocal campaigners for Brexit and is now standing down.

She played a huge role in Vote Leave’s media presence, appearing in national debates and touring the country on its infamous battle bus.

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And if Labour manages to hold on to - or indeed build on - Stuart’s 2,700 majority, the seat will be represented by Preet Kaur Gill, who will make history by becoming the first Sikh woman to sit in the House of Commons.

Gill will face a tough fight against Conservative candidate Caroline Squire - a direct descendant of Joseph Chamberlain, the Victorian mayor of Birmingham, and former PM Neville Chamberlain.

The seat has been held by female MPs since 1953.

The views of the latest Huff Post focus groups - made up of Birmingham men and women aged between 30 and 58 whose occupations include a football coach, substance misuse practitioner and cleaning supervisor - suggests the constituency may well turn blue in 2017.

The sessions were held before this week’s local elections - which delivered a bruising message to Labour with Tory victories in the West Midlands and Tees Valley mayoral contests and numerous council seat losses.  It was also a poor night for UKIP, whose vote share dropped to just 3% nationally, with Theresa May appearing to scoop up right-wing support.

Focus group views on the PM include ‘strong-willed’ and ‘determined’, while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is regarded as ‘clueless’.

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And despite a large growth in membership for the local Labour Party, sources told Huff Post UK that the expansion has so far failed to translate to manpower, with fewer than ever volunteers putting themselves forward to campaign.

A key issue for focus group participants was community spirit, with many reporting they no longer know their neighbours and that their city seems more divided. 

Graham, a railway customer services operative, said: “It’s a nicer place to be town-wise, but not sure about people-wise.  It’s not as friendly as it used to be.”

But Lisa, a mum-of-two who works part time in a school, said she knew her neighbours and they would always offer to help her out. 

The group said Birmingham has historically been a multi-cultural city and felt its residents were better at integration as a result.  

Edgbaston houses Birmingham University and Edgbaston cricket ground, home to Warwickshire County Cricket Club and a regular venue for major competitions.

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 It has the second highest proportion of people working in human health and social work, according to 2011 census figures. The two largest employers are Birmingham University and the local NHS Foundation Trust.

One in six of the population is Asian/Asian British, one in four has a professional job and 5.8% are unemployed. 

Focus group participants - most of whom don’t buy a paper but keep up with the news on their smart phone - said they hadn’t paid a huge amount of attention to the election so far. 

When asked what news stories they’d heard so far, one said the Conservatives had pledged to raise the minimum wage to £10 per hour (’that was the Tories wasn’t it?’), but were not able to name many MPs who had grabbed their attention (’Tim Fallon?’).

Most said they were confident in Theresa May’s ability to deliver Brexit - even many who had voted Remain -, but said local issues were a more important consideration for them, raising concerns about rising levels of homelessness in Birmingham city centre.

Despite the leanings of their MP, 66% of Edgbaston constituents wanted Britain to stay in the EU - with two of the four wards backing Remain by considerable margins.

NOTE: The focus groups are part of HuffPost UK’s ‘Beyond Brexit’ series, which aims to look at the kind of Britain voters want to see once the UK quits the EU in 2019. Going beyond the usual political bubble, it will cover the issues obscured by both the noise of the general election and the narrow Brexit debate.

Two focus groups were recruited. Each contained eight people - some who ordinarily vote Labour, some who vote Conservative and some floating voters. One group had all voted Leave in the EU referendum, while the second group all voted Remain. Participants were 30-58, worked full or part time and several had children at home.

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