Derby North: Could pub chatter predict swing seat vote?

Jim Collins
Image caption Jim Collins says his regulars do not seem particularly interested in May versus Corbyn

Real ale-loving Derby North was England's narrowest won seat in the last general election when just a handful of votes changed its political makeup. Can the men and women behind the beer pumps shed any light on how punters will vote this time?

Derby is a city that takes its beer seriously.

There are 200 different real ales available at its countless watering holes, in addition to its 14 breweries.

Its reputation for a decent pint has earned it the seal of approval from the Campaign for Real Ale, which describes Derby as the "UK's capital of real ale" - though Sheffield and Norwich may beg to differ - and the city also hosts the group's national winter beer festival.

Quality beverages aside, it is also home to the most marginal parliamentary seat in the country, Derby North, where Conservative Amanda Solloway won in 2015 by a tiny majority of 41 votes.

So as we try to work out how the constituency's drinkers and thinkers will vote this time round, who better to ask than the pub landlords with little choice but to listen in on nightly political discussions between their regulars?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Some punters settle their political differences over a pint

Derby North is home to the sprawling Royal Derby Hospital, which opened in 2010 and treats an estimated 180,000 patients a year.

About two miles away sits city pub The Golden Eagle, where landlord Jim Collins believes healthcare is a major concern for his regulars.

"The biggest sensitive issue that a lot of our customers have mentioned is the NHS - specifically the pressure being put on the NHS by immigration," he said.

"That's what people think, whether it's an informed opinion or not.

"From my side of things, I'm just here to be a sounding board."

Jim, whose favourite drink is Titan Brewery's Action Man, believes most customers are still making up their minds on who to vote for.

"I'd say the majority of people who come in are open to someone changing their mind with a reasoned argument," he said.

"We've got some people who are pro-Tory and pro-Labour but we've got a massive majority in the middle who don't really care which party gets in as long as it gives them a better quality of life.

"They would prefer to have whoever's best rather than stick to a specific party."

Image caption Michael Vickers says he regularly hears regulars debating Brexit

In the exotically-named New Zealand area of Derby, punters are pre-occupied with the topic guaranteed to divide opinion - the EU referendum.

The city voted to leave by 57.2%.

Michael Vickers, landlord of The New Zealand Arms - favourite tipple Bass - said: "We're still talking about Brexit in here. It's a big issue.

"I'd say it's a 50/50 split here, pretty much in line with the national vote. It's a very mixed pub due to the fact we've got students here that are really going to be voting Labour I would think, and retired people who are leaning more towards the Conservatives.

"I hear a lot of debating going on and as a landlord I try to stay out of it but it's all good natured."

Image caption Graham and Janette Browett said people were "fed up with being squeezed"

Across town, the Five Lamps pub is run by husband and wife Graham and Janette Browett.

They have supported the Conservatives for the past four decades but a sharp increase in business rates has seen them reconsider where their votes should go.

Janette, who doesn't have a favourite drink, said: "I've always voted Conservative but to be honest at the moment I really don't know what I'm going to vote.

"I don't want to vote Conservative because since we've been [running the Five Lamps], corporation tax has gone up, rates have gone up. I'm amazed they haven't put VAT up."

Graham, who favours Harvest Pale Ale, said talking to Labour-supporting regulars had got him thinking.

He said: "Certainly there are people in here who are very strong Corbyn fans. If it wasn't for the nuclear thing I would vote Labour this year, definitely.

"I think [that is what] is going to shoot him in the foot. Otherwise I think he could have come out on top. That's the feeling I get.

"[Regulars] like his talk and think he's a true man but he's not really a leader is he?

"Not in my mind."

Most marginal seats in the UK - based on 2015 results
Constituency Winner 2nd place Majority Majority %
Gower Con Lab 27 0.1
Derby North Con Lab 41 0.1
City of Chester Lab Con 93 0.2
Croydon Central Con Lab 165 0.3
Ealing Central & Acton Lab Con 274 0.5
Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk SNP Con 328 0.6
Ynys Mon (Anglesey) Lab PC 229 0.7
Vale Of Clwyd Con Lab 237 0.7
Brentford & Isleworth Lab Con 465 0.8
Bury North Con Lab 378 0.8

Image caption Richard Swanwick says people seem "passionate" about the election

Pint-sized micropub The Little Chester Ale House is situated in the fashionable Chester Green neighbourhood.

Owner Richard Swanwick, favourite drink Hartshorne Brewery's Shakademus, said he tends to keep his nose out of political debates.

He said: "The main thing I've noticed is how split people are. They seem to be one way or the other. There are mixed emotions and it's quite a charged atmosphere if you start talking about it.

"We do find that if everyone's on one particular side, then we all get on. But if they're not then it can become quite heated, so there's quite a lot passion there.

"We've got a school teacher who comes in and talks about education but I'd say crime, the NHS and taxation are the main themes."

Image caption Paul and Tommy Keating said a U-turn on the smoking ban in pubs would win votes with customers

The last stop is The Mile, named after an infamous pub crawl route into Derby city centre along Ashbourne Road.

It is run by father and son team Paul and Tommy Keating - favourite tipples Strongbow Dark Fruits and Budweiser respectively - who said they thought quite a few of their regulars would not bother voting.

Paul said: "They're not very politically minded in here to be honest, they're more sports-minded, although a lot of people moan about the smoking ban."

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Whatever issues the drinkers of Derby North feel passionate about, landlords can expect to see plenty more intense debate as the election edges closer.

But which voters will be raising a glass and which will be drowning their sorrows in the early hours of 9 June is anyone's guess.

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