LEIGH has been an impenetrable Labour stronghold for almost a century – but bubbling under the surface, there is a clamour for change.

For some this will be the first time in their lives that they will be placing an X next to another party’s name in the election booth on December 12.

Rumblings from within the activist Labour ranks over the past ten days or so, coupled with a poll from YouGov on Wednesday night that showed the seat on a knife-edge with the Tories marginally in front, may have caused surprise among some observers – but more than a few Leythers have seen it coming.

At the last election the Conservatives recorded their best result in Leigh since the 1970s by securing a third of the vote, finishing 10,000 votes behind Labour.

While still being a chunky majority, that was a five per cent swing away from Labour and in a heavily leave-leaning seat, there are signs the Conservatives could now be making further inroads.

Since 2017 Boris Johnson has risen to the top of the Tory party, and his pro-Brexit stance has won admirers in leave-voting Leigh, including mum-of-two Carla Bassett.

“I’ll be voting Tory for the first time in my life. I like Boris and I want to see the points-based immigration system brought in,” she said.

“It sounds awful but there are people who are getting all the support ahead of those who have fought for this country who are on the streets.”

Andrew Baxendale, a trader in Leigh Market, believes Brexit and immigration will remain a deciding issue in the election, and that Labour’s stance was not an appealing one.

He said: “I don’t know if people will choose the Tories or the Brexit Party, but we’ve voted to come out and that’s got to happen.

“Labour want to have another go, but I don’t think that’ll wash here.”

Brexit isn’t the only issue here. Not unlike some other Labour seats in the area, issues with the Labour-run Wigan council, anti-social behaviour and concerns about shops shutting up and the dying high street are also behind people’s decision to change their allegiances.

Leigh’s town centre, like countless others across the country, is struggling. Shops are opening and closing on a regular basis, and footfall and investment is falling.

The town, and others within the constituency, missed out on a share of £1 billion through the government’s Future High Streets Fund. But Boris Johnson has nevertheless been directing his messaging specifically towards towns such as this.

With Leigh town centre falling prey to vandalism, the government’s promise of 20,000 new police officers – the same number it has cut since austerity began in 2010 – may sway voters.

Vicky Francis, who works in the town centre, said: “The antisocial behaviour in Leigh is absolutely terrible.

“I don’t get how our taxes for policing can keep going up when we’re not seeing any more officers on our streets.”

Ollie Vaulks, who works in the high street’s Specsavers branch, thinks Leigh will stay Labour – but said the state of the high street would be in the forefront of many people heading into the voting booth.

“People are proud to be from Leigh and keep coming to the high street. It’s not the wealthiest town but people really care about it,” he added.

To the north east of Leigh is Tyldesley, which only became a part of the constituency in 2009.

Like Leigh and Golborne, and the villages of Lowton and Astley, it is a working class town which owes its growth to industries of days gone by. And not everyone is convinced the area will give up lifelong allegiances to the Labour Party.

Andrea Taziker is the seventh generation of her family to live in the terraced home built by her great-great-great-great grandfather.

“I’d be very surprised if people voted Tory in Tyldesley in this area given its coal mining past and what the Tories have done to the industry,” she says.

While there remains some disconnect between working class communities and Westminster, Ms Taziker says this election has got more people talking about politics.

“When I got to the shops it’s what I hear at the tills all the time, but people are generally perplexed and feel politicians are lying through their teeth,” she said.

“They just don’t know who to trust.”

Patrick Sarsfield is struggling with this exact problem. A historic Labour voter, he says his mind still won’t be made up until he heads to the polling station on election day.

He says his son is also stuck on who to vote for, but may be leaning towards the Brexit Party.

Mr Sarsfield said: “The leaders have all got good ideas but they just need to bang their heads together and work with one another.”

But if the Tories are unlikely to pick up votes in Tyldesley, it could be a different story in Lowton – or at least half of it.

The village’s leafy suburbs have become surrounded by new housing developments and with the prospect of the HS2 rail project looming, there are fears that the community is losing its identity.

Such opposition has been consistently supported by the village’s Conservative councillors according to Carole Reeve, who has lived in Lowton for 32 years.

Leigh Journal:

The life-long Tory voter said: “These councillors are standing up for us against these developments and the HS2and trying to keep it more comfortable for us.”

During local elections the western half is tied to Golborne, with the combined ward represented entirely by Labour councillors.

But all three councillors in the Lowton East ward are Conservative, and have each enjoyed comfortable majorities in the past three elections.

One of those councillors is James Grundy, who is standing for election again having secured the Tories their impressive showing at the 2017 election.

Mrs Reeve, who confesses that she has never heard of the constituency’s incumbent Labour MP, is confident that Lowton East constituents will show a similar level of support next month.

But her reaction to hearing of YouGov’s prediction of a narrow Tory takeover is one of genuine surprise.

“Now that would be a big shock, but a nice shock,” she says.

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Voting is a different proposition for fellow Lowton resident Tracey Amer, who looks at what every party is proposing before putting pencil to paper in the voting booth.

But Labour, and Jeremy Corbyn, won’t be getting her support.

“I don’t love the Tories, and I don’t disagree with a lot of what Labour stands for, but I won’t vote for him,” she said.

“He has no plan that I can see for leading the country. He’s flip-flopped on wanting an election, and on Brexit.

“At the end of the day I think most people are fed up of politicians and are just left picking the best out of the worst.”

With two weeks to go until the election, it is clear there will be more eyes on Leigh than many would have predicted.

The word change is on the lips of many Leythers – and it’s just possible change will be what they’ll get.