Manchester prepares for election as city comes to terms with terror attack

Manchester bombing tributes Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Tributes continue to be left in memory of the victims of last month's suicide bombing

People in Manchester will approach next week's general election while still coming to terms with last month's terror attack. In a city that regularly records some of the lowest voter turnouts in the country, what are people's main concerns?

With its resurgent business community, popular universities and thriving food and drink scene, Manchester is often considered England's capital of the north.

The city's Northern Quarter is a modern hipster heaven, there's a proud sporting tradition and people recently voted for the wider region's first metropolitan mayor, signalling a fresh direction for local politics.

But a peculiar trend has endured in the city in recent years. Many thousands of people repeatedly fail to vote in general elections.

Two Manchester constituencies were among the very lowest for voter turnouts in the UK in the 2015 election.

Blackley and Broughton was third lowest, while Manchester Central was fifth from bottom.

And five years earlier Manchester Central had the lowest turnout of anywhere in the country, when fewer than 46% of registered voters went to the polls.

Image caption The majority of people in Manchester voted to remain in the EU, but Brexit remains a deeply divisive issue

The city is also reeling from last month's suicide bombing that left 22 dead, many more injured, and inspired crowds to gather in defiant displays of solidarity.

Mother-of-two Jackie Hilton said she thought she knew how she was going to vote until the terror attack "changed everything".

"Prior to what happened, I knew exactly how I was going to vote, but now it's thrown a total curve ball," the 43-year-old said.

"I've watched the debates, and I think the issues of our security, policing numbers and fighting terrorism and cyber crime are paramount.

"I normally look at the manifestos and make a decision. But it's hard this time.

"I think of my mum, and my daughters. My parents have been Conservative voters all their lives and now there's talk of the dementia tax on one side, and the garden tax on the other. It's a tough one."

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Image caption Reaction to the bombing at Manchester Arena included defiant messages and posters around the city

In a recent debate hosted by BBC Radio Manchester, Usma Chaudry raised concerns about the government's Prevent scheme, which aims to prevent radicalisation.

She said: "There's no proof whatsoever that Prevent is working. It does nothing but vilify specifically Muslim communities.

"What makes me nervous is there doesn't seem to be a distinct answer from any of [the parties] to say that it will be scrapped, and it is no longer effective.

"One of the causes of terrorism is when you continue to target a community, it will have counter effects."

Speaking before the bombing, Alex Ullmann, who lives in the inner-city Ancoats area, said the key thing was for people to make their voices heard.

"I think it's important to vote. Aside from all the standard cliché about how we're fortunate to have the right to vote, my outlook is if I don't vote, I can't moan," he said.

"My voting history happens to align with how my family vote, but I can't say it was intentional and this time I'm close to shifting my vote to a different party."

Image caption Emily Robinson, left, and Georgia Scott said their decisions have been influenced by their families and social media

The 31-year-old said the NHS and Brexit were at the forefront of his mind.

"I'm most interested in the things that really make a difference, like healthcare. The NHS is one of those things that, when it's gone, we'll regret not fighting harder for.

"Having a family member ill is scary, and stressful, enough. Adding fear of not being able to afford the treatment will only make a bad situation worse. I think we need to take a more realistic approach to the issue and spend to keep it afloat."

Regarding Brexit, Mr Ullmann voted to remain and said he now worries about how the process of leaving the EU will be managed.

"Nothing since the votes were counted has made me confident that anyone has the first idea what's going to happen. I'm fairly certain the EU will want to make an example of us, though, to put off any further referendums on the mainland."

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Image caption Manchester's tram network opened in 1992

Mr Ullmann also articulates a frustration that was common among people the BBC approached - a sense of being "bored" or uninspired by the current choice of politicians.

But he urged people to get out and vote all the same.

He said: "It's all mind numbingly boring, but it's important. It affects almost every aspect of day-to-day life. So we should give it the consideration that it deserves, exercise our right to vote - and then have a damn good moan."

Manchester-born Will Connor, who works as a singer, travels widely for work and likes the Labour Party's commitment to re-nationalise the railways.

"It's got to the stage where you can get a flight to Edinburgh for a cheaper price than a train ticket. It's ridiculous," he said.

Image caption Will Connor, left, and Oliver Stockwin have similar family backgrounds but their views differ markedly

On Brexit, he says he resents the way Theresa May is handling the process as "someone we didn't elect", and welcomes the election.

However, despite coming from a Conservative-leaning family, the 22-year-old says he is inclined to vote Labour or Lib Dem this time.

He said: "I've done a lot of work with the homeless in Manchester. I personally think Labour or Lib Dems would do more for that section of society.

"It's not just a made-up problem. There are genuine situations where people need a bit of money to help them."

Image caption Manchester Central constituency includes parts of the inner city Ancoats area

Oliver Stockwin went to school in the city and has returned for the summer after leaving to study economics in Sheffield.

He thinks the Conservatives will "make a better job" of Brexit negotiations.

"Both my parents are Conservative and I think you do get a bit of sway from that. I just think they are better placed to get the job done."

Among older generations, household bills are among people's main concerns, as well as the future of the NHS and social care.

Image caption William O'Brien, left, and Mike Beesley said the NHS and the price of household bills are among their main concerns

"I think think they should give older people a break," said 64-year-old Will O'Brien. "I'm not just speaking for myself. There are a lot of people much more worse off the us.

"I'm against the means testing of the heating allowance. It's not clear what it will mean for many."

Mr O'Brien and his wife Joan both voted to leave the EU and he says he stands by his decision "100%".

But he says he would like to see "more clarity", amid many "unanswered questions".

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Retired civil servant Mike Beesley said he likes to consider the work of his local MP when deciding which party to vote for.

"I'd usually vote Labour because I like my MP and it's someone I like and trust," the 58-year-old said.

"But I'd like to see more public spending, and someone needs to look at the power companies. The prices are extortionate. Everything seems to be going up at the moment.

"I feel worse off then I should be, after working all my life."

Image caption Manchester City Council says it runs a number of schemes to encourage people to vote

Mother-of-one Josie Hunt said her two-year-old daughter's future is in her thoughts as the election looms, as well as her opposition to Brexit.

"I don't want to leave the EU. I like travel and I don't want people to feel excluded," she said.

"It seems to me England isn't even the best place to grow up. I don't want things to be worse for my little girl."

Georgia Scott, who works in sales, says she has been brought up to vote Labour.

Image caption Josie Hunt says the future of her two-year-old daughter is her main concern

"I'll be voting Labour just because of the views of my family. I come from a working class background and, for us, I just feel like there's a better chance with them. I think Labour is more competent in thinking about people who work.

"Everyone should have enough money to feed themselves and have enough left over to live comfortably."

Anastasia Frost, who was born in Russia but has lived in Manchester for the past 11 years, offers a heartfelt take on Brexit.

The charity worker, 30, is in favour of the Liberal Democrats' policy of pushing for a second referendum.

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Image caption Two Manchester constituencies were among the very lowest for voter turnouts in the UK in the 2015 election

"Brexit was a big blow to me and it has been difficult to live knowing that our society is a lot less tolerant than I thought," she said.

"I am horrified by Theresa May's proposals such as her intention to end free school lunches for infants affecting 900,000 children.

"Jeremy Corbyn on the other hand seems to think he can grow money on trees and his ideals are too close to communism for my liking.

"I would like to see an NHS that is not overstrained and understaffed. I would like for the homeless problem in Manchester to be addressed."

Image caption Liam Jackson does not plan to vote and said he struggles to be inspired by today's politicians

But, of course, not everyone here is voting.

Emily Robinson, 19, says she feels disillusioned, and that the media fails to connect to young people or explain the choices more clearly.

"When I see things posted on social media I'm interested in that, but that's the only time I really consider it," she said.

Liam Jackson, who is currently unemployed, said he simply feels politicians have simply not reached out to his generation.

The 26-year-old said: "It just feels like there's nothing to inspire young people. I don't even feel I know about all the politicians. There's nothing that really piques my interest.

"It's not like I don't care about the country, because I do, but all that just seems so far away. I struggle to explain it. I think this year I'm waiting for someone to impress me."

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