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General Election – Woking Voters Give Their Views

Published on: 2 Jul, 2024
Updated on: 2 Jul, 2024

Woking Parliamentary constituency no longer includes parts of Guildford Borough.

By Chris Caulfield

local democracy reporter

“It’s just stress after stress after stress. I just go to work and go home.” These are the words from Sarah Moloney, a Woking resident grappling with the mounting pressures of daily life. Her sentiment echoes the frustration felt by many in this Surrey constituency as the 2024 General Election is almost on us.

Woking has been a traditionally Conservative stronghold since 1950. But the constituency finds itself at a crossroads. With the borough’s recent financial crisis, marked by historic debt levels and bankruptcy, Woking’s election outcome remains unpredictable.

Sarah Moloney

The Local Democracy Reporting Service went to Woking town centre to learn if people would continue to punish the Conservatives for the problems locally,  or whether they would return to their traditional voting habits that has seen the seat held by a Tory ever since its inception, with huge majorities. This is what they had to say.

For context, since 1950, Woking has only had four different MPs. Jonathan Lord has represented Woking in Parliament since 2010 – winning four elections on the trot. His smallest majority was 6,807, and even then, he had more than 50 per cent of the total votes cast.

At the following election, in 2015, Mr Lord increased both his vote share and majority. Across his four wins, no one party has emerged as a genuine contender for the seat, with both Labour and the Liberal Democrats finishing second on two occasions. This time, the polls have it much closer with a three-way fight between the major parties predicted, according to latest polls.

Much of the issues in Woking stemmed from financial decisions taken between 2016 and 2019 when the council, under Conservative control, borrowed heavily to fund regeneration projects. The borrowing spiralled, with a debt expected to reach £2 billion. The regeneration projects – town centre hotels, Sheerwater – stalled or collapsed, with little or no money set aside to service the debts.

Woking’s crisis may be a council rather than a parliamentary issue – although the reason many local authorities have been forced to borrow heavily, it could be argued, is a Government one; Woking’s Government-funded spending power was cut, in real terms, by 69.2 per cent between 2010 and 2021 according to the National Audit Office.

The impact of the council’s tilt to bankruptcy was certainly felt at the local level. The first election after the major decisions to borrow hundreds of millions was in 2021, which was the last year a Conservative was voted on to the council.

Since then every single Tory on Woking Borough Council has been voted off and now the local authority is now almost completely dominated by the Liberal Democrats. Add into the mix the recent surge in popularity that Reform UK has enjoyed since Nigel Farage took over the running of the party and it leaves the Conservative vote facing pressure from all sides.

One lifelong Conservative, who asked not to be named, said she continued to back the party. “I don’t know the local politics, but I don’t think anyone else would do any better. I think a lot of people who vote in local politics vote differently, but when it comes to general elections, they will go back to how they usually vote. I’ve voted Conservative all my life, my father was a coal miner – he would be spinning in his grave, but then, I had the benefit of an education.”

Sophie Baker

The mood is more mixed when speaking to others with some finding it impossible to back the Tories. Sophie Baker said she was probably not going to vote having only recently moved back to the area as “it didn’t feel right”. She said: ”I usually vote but this time I won’t. I think the Liberal Democrats will do very well but I’m not going to do anything to make that happen. If people vote for the Conservatives again it’s just like turkeys voting for Christmas and that is that.”

Others are clearer in their views. Andrea Wade said she feels, for the first time in her life, that real change was on the cards. She said: “I have never and will never vote Tory.

Andrea Wade

“I’ve lived here all my life, but before voting Lib Dem was a wasted vote. But it now feels like there is a real shift to not make this place blue any more. I used to see lots of blue Conservative signs around here but I’ve not seen one this year, well maybe one in Pirbright. That doesn’t necessarily mean people won’t vote Conservative, they may just be keeping things a bit low key. I also think there will be people voting Reform here who would have been more Conservative voters before.”

And this is where the great unknown comes in. The polls are showing a three horse race between the Conservatives, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats, with the Tories ahead. The local elections suggest a Lib Dem landslide but there is also the question of how Reform UK performs locally, and where they draw their votes from.

Emma said: “Everybody here thinks everyone in Woking is going to be voting Liberal Democrats, but they’re not. They’re voting Reform. Everyone has had enough of everybody. It’s just a protest vote.”

She added it didn’t make a difference anyway as the main political parties “were all the same”.

Sitting in the town square, outside the Victoria Place development and under the towers of Victoria Square, two places synonymous with Woking’s financial issues, was Sue. She was not happy with how things were going and would vote for any party that would help lower her council tax bill. She said: “It’s the council tax. They’d get my vote if they could bring it down, but there’s no hope for that. I’m voting. Not for the local issues, I’m voting because of immigration, and there is no affordable housing

“Every party says ‘we’re going to build more affordable houses’ but it never happens.” She added that she normally voted Labour but this time intends to vote for a different party.

Meanwhile, Sarah Moloney said: “Whichever way we vote, the country is going to s***. Whoever we vote for the country is going to get worse. Whoever gets in, it’s going to take a long time to fix things like the NHS.”

She said she had no plans to vote though as “whoever I vote for , they will not be able to things and will be in the same kind of situation, they won’t be able to solve all of our problems. There is so much tax. I’m working to pay for my child, and I’ve not got anything left over” after bills and rent of £1,400 a month for a two-bed flat. She added: “It’s just stress after stress after stress. I just got to work and go home.”

For some, it’s not about voting tactically but based on personal values. For Yusaf Ghulam, that means backing Labour. If the polls are correct for Woking, he is far from alone.

Mr Ghulam moved from Pakistan to the UK in 1990 having had to wait five years before being allowed to join his wife. He said: “This government are not for immigration, it’s very strict. I’m fit, physically strong and work hard, I pay a lot of tax. I don’t know why this government is not for immigrant people? Labour’s immigration policy is very nice so I will be voting Labour regardless. This government is not nice for immigration so I’m voting Labour.”

Woking General Election candidates 2024

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Responses to General Election – Woking Voters Give Their Views

  1. Roger Kendall Reply

    July 2, 2024 at 5:57 pm

    Rishi Sunak is a decent intelligent and very hard working Prime Minister and the moderate Conservative party has tried to balance the demands of the electorate but unfortunately, after the Liz Truss disaster he had a lot to put right. The Labour party has a indecisive leader with a strongly left-wing shadow cabinet. Angela Raynor is the person to fear.

    The economy is gradually doing all right but the Labour party is still fighting the class wars of the 1870 to 1930s and will bring the economy down, as they have in every Labour government since the war barring Tony Blair’s first term. Taxing one of our best exports (private schools) shows their hate of successful businesses.

    Can you imagine what it would have been like if Jeremy Corbyn had been Prime Minister during the Covid emergency and the start of the war in Ukraine? On Ukraine, Boris was great and on Covid he managed to do most things right except his silly “cheer the troops up” parties. We should be proud of the UK’s early support for Ukraine which when history is written will show how vital it was.

    Can we not see the link between mass immigration and the shortage of housing? I can remember when Croydon was a nice place to live but they kept putting up ugly flats. The green belt makes the South East a great place to live. Why destroy it? Under our present system a vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote for Labour.

    As for the leader of Reform! A man who has supported Donald Trump and blames Nato for the war. No thanks.

    History clearly shows what Labour will do. I’m sure they haven’t suddenly changed. We need to think carefully before we vote and not believe the promises.

    Any UK Government will be short of money for years unless they add many more taxes. And more taxes means less business and eventually stagnation. Beware.

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