Berkshire

Maidenhead: Voters' views in one of England's safest seats

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Media captionMaidenhead voters tell the BBC what is on their mind ahead of the general election.

At the last general election Theresa May took the Maidenhead seat for the Conservatives with 65% of the vote. No amount of tactical voting would have changed the result, and no other party has ever won there. Does its voters still feel they have a say?

"We know that Theresa May is going to get back in as our local MP regardless of whether we vote for her or against her," says Dave Brooks, a 49-year-old company director.

There is no such thing as a "dead-cert" in politics. Emmanuel's Macron's meteoric rise in France and Donald Trump's electoral triumph in the USA are recent proof of that.

But the outcome in Maidenhead on 8 June would appear to be the next nearest thing. Bookies have set odds of a Conservative victory there at 1/200.

And visiting the riverside town's busy high street, residents are in no doubt about the result they will wake up to on 9 June.

"The system is a little bit frustrating," adds Mr Brooks. "It means you don't really have a voice, however I still believe we should all take our democratic right anyway."

Maidenhead constituency profile

How much do you know about your constituency?

It is not an issue reserved solely for Maidenhead, where the Labour runner-up polled almost 30,000 less votes than the former Home Secretary in 2015.

The bulk of seats across the country are considered "safe". In total, 359 of the 650 MPs elected to parliament at the last election did so with majorities of more than 10,000.

Image caption Company director Dave Brooks said the system can be "a little frustrating"

The largest majorities at the 2015 general election

  • Knowsley, won by George Howarth for Labour with a 34,655 majority
  • East Ham, won by Stephen Timms for Labour with a 34,252 majority
  • Hampshire North East, won by Ranil Jayawardena for the Conservatives with a 29,916 majority
  • Maidenhead, won by Theresa May for the Conservatives with a 29,059 majority
  • Bootle, won by Peter Dowd for Labour with a 28,705 majority

But this is not something that deters the electorate from voting in their thousands for candidates who, the bookies suggest, do not stand much chance of success. Turnout in 2015 was 72.6%, more than six percentage points higher than the national average.

People still like to have their X in the box counted. And some members of the Maidenhead public the BBC spoke to appear relatively happy with the voting system and accepting of their role in it.

Image caption Sharon Weissler says she thinks the system is fair

"I think it's fair," says Sharon Weissler, 43. "It's one of those things. It is what it is."

She says she will be voting for Mrs May and that Maidenhead and areas like it are always a "safe bet" for a Tory win.

Maidenhead is part of a wealthy conurbation where the number of people claiming unemployment benefit is less than half the national average, and life for the majority is comfortable.

They earn more money, have more expensive houses and - walking through the town - there is evidence everywhere that the place has been invested in heavily.

Down the road in the picturesque village of Sonning, which forms part of the constituency, lives human rights lawyer Amal Clooney and her husband, Hollywood A-lister George.

The riverside apartments, leafy parks and celebrity residents can seem a world away from the realities of life in other parts of the country with bigger economic challenges.


Maidenhead: Constituency profile

Image caption Maidenhead is a wealthy conurbation where the number of people claiming unemployment benefit is more than half the national average
  • Population: 103,967
  • Average weekly pay: £690
  • Average house price: £440,000
  • Number of registered businesses: 6,360
  • Number of people claiming out-of-work benefits: 2,410 (3.8% of population compared to national rate of 9.0%)
  • Maidenhead constituency page

Source: House of Commons Library Statistics


The issues at the forefront of the minds of the electorate though are just the same as everywhere else: Brexit negotiations, immigration, the NHS, housing and education.

And there are some who really struggle and are frustrated at the lack of power they possess to make things change.

Dean, who did not want his surname to be used, says that homelessness is a problem in the borough that he has experienced himself, and feels like he has "no voice".

"It makes me angry because we need help," the 27-year-old says. "There's nothing we can do to change it.

"If you look around Maidenhead there are homeless people everywhere.

"The people sleeping in the multi-storey car parks - no-one seems to care about them. It's like they don't exist.

"We need help to find somewhere to live, help to get us jobs and to have a roof over our heads. That's what we need."

He says he wants to see electoral reform and a move away from the first-past-the-post system.


Why your votes still matter in safe seats

Image copyright PA

Political scientist Dr Alan Renwick, from University College London, told the BBC that those voting in safe seats can still shape future policy.

He cites UKIP's performance in 2015 as a good example. Nigel Farage's party won just one seat, but polled almost 4m votes and that threat led to the Conservatives promising a referendum on the country's European Union membership.

"People think that the result matters in ways other than just who wins the seat," says Dr Renwick.

"They might care about who comes second, hoping that, if their party comes second, that might help them build momentum for future elections.

"Or they might care about the total vote for their party across the country - they might think, say, that the Greens will have a louder voice if they get more votes."

BBC guide to the 2017 General Election 2017


Image caption Trevor Watts identified homelessness as an issue in Maidenhead

Trevor Watts, who has lived in the town for all of his 59 years, also identifies rough sleeping as a problem - but says he sees no need to end the status quo.

"Maidenhead is starting to look better, it's starting to look modernised, but I still think there is much more they can do," he says.

Mr Watts says he will be voting for Mrs May. But, if the boot was on the other foot and he was living in a Labour stronghold, he says he would not vote at all.

"It would be pointless," he adds.

Pointless or not, Mrs May's role of leading the Conservative Party's national campaign will not be the only reason her local constituents might not see much of her as 8 June approaches.

The high-profile visits from party leaders, ministers and celebrity supporters that traditionally create the most memorable moments will instead be reserved for the marginal seats where each voter's ballot paper really could turn the result on its head.

Image caption When the BBC took to the riverside town's busy high street, the Prime Minister's residents were in no doubt about the result they will be waking up to
  • The full list of candidates in Maidenhead is Theresa May (Conservative); Pat McDonald (Labour); Tony Hill (Lib Dem); Gerard Batten (UKIP); Derek Wall (Green); Andrew Knight (Animal Welfare); Julian Reid (The Just Political Party); Edmonds Victor (Christian People's Alliance); Yemi Hailemariam (Independent); Bobby Smith (Independent); Grant Smith (Independent); Howling Laud Hope (Monster Raving Loony); Lord Buckethead (Independent).