Like most coal mining communities, Rother Valley is a solid, safe Labour seat. Yet beneath the veneer of bucolic south Yorkshire countryside, an ideological battle is raging to turn this historic working-class heartland blue.
Rother Valley may have been held by the Labour Party ever since its creation in 1918, but residents believe that the demise of Ukip may prove pivotal — and could even swing it to the Conservatives.
The little-known seat is the southernmost seat in south Yorkshire and where the former foreign secretary William Hague, now Lord Hague of Richmond, grew up. It is historically working class, with its mining heritage never far from the forefront of voters’ minds.
A huge 67 per cent of constituents voted for Brexit. Many think that Jeremy Corbyn is a “muppet” and Theresa May just “another Maggie”. Nonetheless, with Brexit voted through, there is a belief that many Ukip votes will be swallowed up by the Conservatives.
Bethan Eddy, 30, the Tory candidate, is used to campaigning. When she’s not knocking on doors to rack up her own votes, she works as chief of staff for her mother, Amanda Solloway, the Conservative candidate for Derby North, who has a majority of just 41.
“I would say it’s going to be quite close between Labour and Conservative,” she says, sitting next to a mound of leaflets in her office in Sheffield. “Politics is in an interesting time at the moment. Who would have thought Brexit would have happened or Trump would be in power? You can’t predict what’s happening in politics so all you can do is try and get the message out that Theresa May is the best person to negotiate Brexit.”
She says she will fight for every vote but insisted: “I would not be doing this if I didn’t think there was a chance of winning.”
The incumbent, Kevin Barron, is not so sure. “Numerically, yes” he says when asked if the Tories could win by luring over Ukip voters. “But a lack of activity by the Conservatives does not suggest they are working towards that whatsoever.”
In the 2015 general election Labour won 20,501 votes in Rother Valley, followed by Ukip which won 13,204. Next came the Conservatives with 10,945 votes.
Walking along a rainy high street in the former colliery town of Dinnington yesterday, Geoffrey Doughty is not shy in sharing his views of politicians’ efforts. “I’m of the age now where I have seen these lying toads for the last 60 years. It doesn’t matter what party they are.” The 87-year-old retired engineer is a staunch Ukip voter who was pleased with the European referendum result. “I like the way Ukip think,” he says. “I should be Conservative — I’ve been in business all my life. I will vote Ukip again because they are totally right about everything — immigration, the lot. But I think a lot of Ukip voters will vote Tory now because we have achieved the aim of Brexit.”
Claire Cadmen, 37, who owns a shop selling children’s clothes, is sat with friends outside a café taking shelter from the drizzle. She is a staunch Labour voter and says regretfully: “I think the Tories will win here. They shouldn’t but they will do. All the Ukip votes will go to the Tories.”
Not everyone agrees. Paul Gregory, 55, who is unemployed, voted to remain in Europe and while he voted Ukip in the last election, the television debates swayed him in another direction.
“I watched them debates and that Tim Farron speaks a lot of sense to me,” he says. “He’s more for the country. For a lot of them politicians it’s all show. It’s like that with Theresa May not even showing up, it’s just a game . . . I think she will get in again but the Tories don’t stand a chance here — or nowhere with a mining area. They will never be the party of the working class.”
Further up the high street in an old market hall, Lynne, 48, is sat sewing a pair of pink trousers. She backed Brexit and has been a loyal Conservative voter but the impact of austerity has turned her towards Labour. “Mad innit!” she says. “Ukip lied to a lot of people. People thought they’d get more money for the health service. If I could vote again, I’d vote Remain.”
She says: “I own this small business and she [Mrs May] is doing nothing to help me. Bollocks she’s the party of the working classes . . . It’s a scary thought the Tories getting in.”
In the old mining town of North Anston, a 49-year-old company director is enjoying a pint with friends. A self-confessed “floating voter”, he is clear about the direction he wants Rother Valley to take this week. “I hope the Tories swallow up them Ukip votes,” he says. “There’s no other option than Theresa May because Jeremy Corbyn is a communist liar that makes up figures for fun.” The Labour leader would “give everything away to Europe if you vote for him”.