Election 2015 England

Election 2015: Parties fight over Solihull seat

Solihull Image copyright Google images
Image caption What's the big attraction in Solihull? Politicians are making plenty of trips along the motorway

The fight for Solihull is fierce, with the Lib Dems, Conservatives and the Green Party all pinning their hopes on victory in the West Midlands town next week. But where do the battle lines lie? And what do residents think?

Solihull was one of the first stops for Nick Clegg's battle bus. The Lib Dem leader made a beeline for the town on the first day of the election campaign, touring a hedgehog sanctuary with Paddy Ashdown and the party's local candidate Lorely Burt.

On Friday, he was back, describing Ms Burt as a "wonderful MP" and a "dear friend" and telling journalists Solihull was "really important" to his party.

David Cameron and Ed Balls have also visited in the last week and the Tories chose the town for John Major's speech warning against a Labour-SNP alliance.

At the last general election Ms Burt held onto Solihull with a majority of just 175 votes. It was her second win in the previously Tory town and the Conservatives are hoping to take it back on Thursday.

In 2010 Labour came third, some 18,500 votes behind the Tories, and the Green Party did not stand.

This time around, the Greens have made Solihull their number one target in the region. They already have a strong showing in the town as the official opposition to the Conservatives on Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council. The Greens have 10 seats to the Tory's 29.

Image caption There was a big Conservative audience when former prime minister John Major delivered a speech in Solihull

Greenbelt issues are big in Solihull, with fears that more housing could destroy green areas separating the town from Coventry and Meriden. There's also local opposition to HS2, which is planned to run close to the town.

And it is a constituency that appears to be engaged with politics - in 2010 72% of the population turned out to vote.

Home ownership is high, residents are slightly older than the national average and unemployment is relatively low. The Jaguar Land Rover plant is a big employer and its vehicles sit on many a driveway in the town.

Both Lorely Burt and Conservative candidate Julian Knight are raising local NHS and policing issues.

Ms Burt's website points to a campaign to bring back double-crewed ambulances to the town and for better mental health facilities. She also has a petition to stop the closure of the front desk of Shirley's police station and to stop the reduction of hours Solihull's.

Mr Knight promises to "keep our NHS local" and says he wants to keep Solihull independent of a proposed Greater Birmingham authority and secure better funding for the town's schools.

Howard Allen, standing for the Green Party, says his focus is on the economy, fighting cutbacks to public services, and protecting the NHS.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Nick Clegg, Lorely Burt and Paddy Ashdown took in a hedgehog sanctuary in Solihull on the first day of campaigning

"They are really going all out here. We have had them all here," said one shopper in Solihull town centre about politicians' visits.

The woman, who did not want to be named, has not decided who to vote for but said she and her two daughters received correspondence to their home most days from Ms Burt and Mr Knight.

"We get three copies of everything and I think 'this must be costing a fortune'," she said.

As well as his recent visit, David Cameron caused a stir in October when he took a break from the Conservative party conference for burgers and beers with wife Samantha at the town's Five Guys - telling staff President Barack Obama had recommended the US diner chain.

Image caption Scarlett Willetts (left) and Stephanie Adams plan to vote for different candidates

Stephanie Adams, 18, who has worked at the restaurant since August, said the visit had not convinced her to give her first vote to the Conservatives.

"My mum's been nagging me to vote because Labour is going to get rid of zero-hours contracts and that's best for us," she said. "I'm going to vote Labour."

Ms Adams said she had a seven-hour contract with her previous restaurant employer but when this went to zero hours she sometimes did not get any work.

"I get at least three shifts a week here, so that's good," she said.

Scarlett Willetts, 23, from Olton, a manager at the branch, said: "It's very Conservative here.

"I'm backing David Cameron as I think he's done a very good job. I believe the country is on the up."

Image caption About 80% of constituents own their homes in Solihull. The average house price is £285,778, Rightmove says.

Kathryn Stanczyszyn, political reporter, Birmingham, BBC News

Solihull is the Conservatives' top target seat in the West Midlands, which is no surprise when the Lib Dems' Lorely Burt holds it with just a 0.3% majority.

But if it does go to the Tories on the night, it's not necessarily an indication of what will happen elsewhere in the country.

Solihull was something of an enigma last time around - Lorely Burt held onto this seat against most of the predictions. And there's certainly an indication of staunch pockets of local Lib Dem support in some wards.

But the Conservatives have been campaigning hard here and if you add into the mix the drain of votes away from all three main parties towards the Greens and UKIP, it could mean a blue victory that's not necessarily part of a trend.

David Nock, a taxi driver in the town for 20 years who backed the Conservatives in 2010, said: "I'm not voting for any of them [parties]. "They can't lie straight in bed and I don't have time for any of them."

He said he was "not happy" on immigration and the EU but did not believe any party would keep promises to change things.

Image caption Barzan Rahman said it was important to him and his family to vote

Barzan Rahman, 42, said: "I used to be a Labour supporter but I moved to the right a bit but I'm not quite Conservative. The Liberal Democrats follow a balanced, middle ground."

Dr Rahman, who is Kurdish, said he has lived in either Solihull or Knowle since moving to the UK aged four.

Currently in Knowle, he will vote in the neighbouring Meriden constituency .

"I met with Lorely Burt at one of her surgeries to discuss Kurdish issues and she was very nice," he said. In the meeting 12 months ago, the psychologist called for more government support for Kurdish people abroad and said the then MP was "very helpful".

Dr Rahman said he votes on national rather than local issues, adding: "I think if you come from a country tough on democracy you are more likely to use it [your vote].

"Everyone in our family votes."

Pauline Hiorms, 76, who moved back to the area from Birmingham last year, said she was concerned about health issues, including the downgrading of services in Solihull.

"Coming from Edgbaston, we had the lovely Queen Elizabeth Hospital but there seems to be a lot of problems with the NHS at Solihull Hospital. I felt safer in Edgbaston," she said.

Mrs Hiorms said Lorely Burt "seems to be doing a lot" to support the hospital while Mr Knight was vocal on hospital parking charges.

She added she would be voting in her traditional way and hoped to persuade her sister to vote too. "I am Conservative," she said.

BBC Generation 2015's Helen Mockler, 18, in Solihull

"I thought I knew who I was going to vote for, but I'm back to square one.

"The more things I see on he news and TV the harder it is to come to a decision. Most of the parties have elements I like. I can't even talk to my family about it as different members will vote in different ways.

"As a student, student loans are a big issue for me and I think all the parties will have a shock at how many students will vote this time around. In the past they haven't tended to vote in big numbers.

"Despite it being a marginal constituency I've only had one leaflet through the post and only seen the one banner."

Solihull candidates:

  • Howard Allen (Green)
  • Lorely Burt (Liberal Democrat)
  • Philip Henrick (UKIP)
  • Julian Knight (Conservative)
  • Nigel Knowles (Labour)
  • Mike Nattrass (Independence from Europe)
  • Matthew Ward (The Democratic Party)

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