General election 2017: All about Brexit? Not in the North West

UK and EU flags
Image caption Will Brexit be the big issue for voters in the North West?

When Theresa May stood outside Downing Street and called the election, my first thought was "what will happen to the UKIP vote?"

Brexit had seemingly negated their raison d'etre; would the party who leapfrogged the Liberal Democrats by securing 13.6% of the North West vote in 2015 still be a force to be reckoned with?

As campaigning started, I struggled to find UKIP voices. Then came the heartbreaking events of 22 May, and things changed.

Among the people I spoke to in Heywood and Middleton - where UKIP secured almost a third of the vote in 2015 - there is a belief they are the only ones to be trusted with our security.

"The others say they'll do it, but they don't," one man tells us.

"We need to cut immigration numbers and increase police numbers. UKIP will deliver."

In other areas, there are more pressing matters closer to home.

Robert is 21, a new dad, and has been looking for work for six weeks.

When he casts his vote in the general election on 8 June, one subject will be uppermost in his mind.

"I want to work. I want to pay tax. I just need the chance.

"There is the perfect job out there for me - I know it. I just haven't found it yet."

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Image caption All five parties believe they can gain votes in the North West

He lives in Radcliffe, a town in the Bury South constituency.

It is one of dozens of seats across the country that was won by Labour in 1997, but now finds itself in Tory sights.

How will he vote in June?

"Labour. My Dad told me to, and I trust my Dad. So I trust Labour."

Amid the May-Corbyn analysis on swing voters, it is easy to forget the core Labour vote is unshakable in parts of the North West.

There are 19 seats that have always been Labour. There are 31 seats with a Labour margin of 20%.

Here, the Tories' "strong and stable" mantra does not seem to be reaching the ears of the Labour hardcore.

"Finally Jeremy Corbyn - a real Labour leader," says Audrey from Liverpool.

She is 51 and did not fancy Tony Blair and New Labour much.

That did not stop her voting for Labour though - and she is representative of many in the city.

Big dilemma

So is it the Brexit election at all?

It does not seem that way in Barrow, where it is the Trident election.

With more than 8,000 jobs directly linked to Trident, and thousands more across Cumbria and north Lancashire which rely on the presence of defence giant BAE Systems, that should perhaps come as no surprise.

"It's the shops, the hairdressers; whatever sector you belong to," says Tony Keen, managing director of SN engineering group.

"The size of BAE and Trident to Barrow affects every part of the community."

Labour's John Woodcock is defending a majority of less than 800 votes.

Here there is a tension - do people vote for their local candidate who endorses the renewal of Trident or punish him because Mr Corbyn has long been opposed to having a nuclear deterrent?

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Image caption Some North West voters face a tough choice in the polling booth

They are not the only voters facing a big dilemma.

Take Green supporters in the marginal seat of Lancaster and Fleetwood.

There, Labour beat the Conservatives by just 1,265 votes in 2015 and a 1.5% swing would see the constituency turn blue again.

"I'm sick of voting Labour to keep the Tories out," says Chris, who volunteers at a community cook-up organised in part by Green councillors.

"Why should we? The Greens deserve to grow."

There are eight Green councillors in Lancaster, but the party have not yet made much of a breakthrough in national elections.

"We don't see the point," says Debbie, who manages the Marsh community centre in the city.

"We see and we know our Green councillors. But a Green vote nationally is a waste."

Divided debate

And what of the Liberal Democrats - will the talk of a hard Brexit benefit the party, which is firmly opposed to such things?

They have pledged to stage a second referendum if they win the general election.

The party held Cheadle from 2001 until losing it to the Tories in 2015 and about 58% of the area's constituents who voted in the referendum wanted to remain in the European Union.

So could angry Remainers there be preparing to throw their weight behind the party?

Sally was a Remainer and used to vote Lib Dem, but other priorities have become more pressing, and she knows where she is likely to be placing her cross on the ballot paper.

"The last thing we want is more change - Theresa May started the Brexit journey and I trust her to finish it.

"Besides… it's the NHS I'm worried about, and I don't think the Lib Dems can build the economy to fund it."

Image caption In Manchester Withington, the topic of beards won out over Brexit

Ric is 35 and from nearby Stockport - a Labour seat.

He's thinking of voting UKIP, but not just because of their firm stance on Brexit.

"I like their ideas on proportional representation.

"They also make sense when it comes to firmer immigration checks, especially after what happened in Manchester.

"Mind you, the missus wants me to vote Labour. She's a teacher and usually has the last word."

Up the road in Manchester Withington, a constituency that turned Labour from Lib Dem two years ago, a table of students are talking and are divided. Here, surely a Brexit debate?

"It has to be Lib Dems," says 22-year-old Eloise.

"Nobody voted for a hard Brexit. And Manchester's packed with international students."

Her friend interjects.

"But Jeremy Corbyn would get rid of tuition fees. Plus he's got an ace beard."

And the conversation heads off in another direction entirely.

This time about beards, but barely about Brexit.

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