UK Politics

Welsh constituency voting Labour for 99 years

Image caption Torfaen is a Labour stronghold, but is also home to many Brexit voters

At the eastern edge of the Welsh valleys, the constituency of Torfaen - and Pontypool, which preceded it - has voted Labour for 99 years. But, after opting heavily for Brexit in the referendum, is there a softening of support for the party?

It doesn't take long to find evidence of the Labour Party's presence in the political DNA of south Wales, as Phyllis Roberts - the recently elected Mayor of Blaenavon, a tiny mining town - attests.

At 93 - the UK's oldest mayor - she has borne witness to decades of Labour rule, and she herself has been active in local politics from a young age.

But she tells the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme there isn't the "100% loyalty" to the party that there used to be in the Welsh Valleys.

Although her own support for the Labour Party has never wavered, she acknowledges some early doubts about Jeremy Corbyn - even hoping at one stage he would step down.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionPhyllis Roberts has voted Labour all her life

She now says she is "more than happy with him" following his performance in the campaign.

Asked if she believes Labour will win power, she replies: "In my heart of hearts, I believe they have a chance."

Find out more

Watch Jim Reed and John Owen's full film here, on the Victoria Derbyshire programme website.

A trip to Pontypool's market, however, shows Labour support is far from universal.

Even among ancestral Labour voters, there are some doubts about recent spending commitments, the party's immigration policy and Mr Corbyn's leadership - although, like Phyllis, others also say they are warming to him.

Several say that, after initial doubts, they are now comfortable casting their ballot for him.

Torfaen's sitting MP - Labour's Nick Thomas-Symonds - currently holds a majority of more than 8,000, winning 44.6% of votes in 2015 to the 23.1% won by the Conservative candidate Graham Smith and both men are standing again this year.

Image caption One Plaid Cymru voter believes the party would do far more for Wales than those based in Westminster

For many in the region, however, the Tories are still seen as "toxic".

They are "for the rich" one man says, before itemising a litany of Tory policies he considers unnecessary and/or cruel.

He'll vote Labour, although he ventures his view that Mr Corbyn is a "bit of a clown".

Meanwhile, more than a smattering of voters mention Plaid Cymru, with one woman saying the party is the "patriotic choice" for Wales.

The other Theresa

At Pontypool's Conservative Club, aptly-named Tory supporter Theresa meets her son Jason, who is a Labour voter.

The pair voted different ways in the EU referendum and will also put crosses in different boxes on their ballot papers on Thursday.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionTheresa and son Jason have very different views on who gets their vote.

Jason is totally behind Mr Corbyn's manifesto, complaining that "Labour has been too central for far too many years".

He believes the party's tilt to the left will be "much better for people round here" and will help to reverse what he sees as a chronic underfunding of public services by the Conservatives.

Theresa says Labour policies are superficially attractive, but she has serious doubts about their ability to deliver.

On the biggest issue of the day - exiting the European Union - she's convinced that only her namesake has what it takes to strike a favourable deal.

Above all: Brexit

Britain's exit from the EU weighs heavily on people's minds in the region, which registered a 59.8% vote to leave.

Some observers point to a balance sheet that shows south Wales to be a net beneficiary of EU investment, but the overall perception here is of resources squandered.

To "regain control" of those resources in the interests of local people, many voters are anxious that Brexit must be done competently - and the forthcoming negotiations are a clear priority.

Several voters express the view that only Prime Minister Theresa May has the proper experience and temperament to take on the negotiations - a perception which, although it may not affect the eventual outcome, will probably unnerve Labour activists.

The third party in the region is UKIP, which has enjoyed considerable backing in recent years, often picking up support from ex-Labour voters as a result of local enthusiasm for Brexit. It received 19% of the votes in the 2015 general election.

But while the party has just opened a fancy new office in the middle of Pontypool, many predict a post-referendum drift of its support towards the Conservatives.

In Cwmbran, Jeff - a UKIP activist - won't deviate from the party, although he thinks the current leader - Paul Nuttall - falls some way short of Nigel Farage, for whom he still has considerable admiration.

He's keen to draw attention to the still lively manufacturing sector - including the factory in which he works - and believes in due course, Brexit will pay dividends for the region.

He describes himself as "optimistic" about leaving the EU and says that despite the constant "doom and gloom" in the media he is not alone.

The party's candidate, Ian Williams, is standing in the area, against Graham Smith for the Conservatives, Plaid Cymru's Jeff Rees and Andrew Best for the Liberal Democrats.

Labour, however, remain overwhelming favourites to retain the constituency - despite Conservative aspirations in the heady early days of the election, when polls showed a 20-point lead for the party UK-wide.

But in the era of Brexit - where the certainties of the past have shifted - the old tribal commitment to Labour can no longer be taken as a guarantee of victory.

Watch the Victoria Derbyshire programme on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 BST on BBC Two and the BBC News Channel.

Related Topics

More on this story