ALL my life, I have told people I am from Cumbria. Most people have never heard of Workington.
But Boris Johnson has put the fading former steel town on the map, with Tory strategists targeting “Workington Man” for the December 12 poll as the type of voter they need to sweep back to power.
In 100 years, Labour has NEVER lost a general election vote here. As a cub reporter on the local paper in 1976, I remember the shock that greeted Tory Richard Page’s by-election win. But three years later, Dale Campbell-Savours reclaimed the seat for Labour.
Workington is 390 miles from Dover and 40 miles from Scotland. In the 2016 referendum, 60 per cent here voted Leave. Many Brexit supporters believe the local MP, Sue Hayman, has ignored their wishes. The Shadow Environment Secretary has a majority of 3,925 but has voted against Brexit in the Commons.
My own brother MARK RIDLEY, 56, says: “I am ‘Workington Man’. I’ve lived in my house for ten years, never went to university and love rugby league. I voted Leave in 2016 and have supported Labour all my life. But this time, I’m voting for Boris.”
The dad of three is branch manager for a builders’ merchant. He is married to Margaret, 55, who works in a nursing home.
Mark says: “The people of Workington are honest and hard-working. They are a bit bemused about being the centre of the most important election in a generation.
“We voted Leave in 2016 but our MP has thwarted Brexit by voting Remain at every opportunity. She has failed to represent the wishes of her constituents.
“People say Boris is a liar but all politicians are economical with the truth. I’ll give him the chance to come good on his promises for towns in the North.”
In the Sixties, Cumbria had coal mines and a steel works. Factory jobs were plentiful but many were lost to the Far East, where wages were lower. In 1986, the steel works closed. Then the mining went.
Mark says: “The town has some of the most deprived areas in Cumbria. Families struggle with poverty and drugs, so we hope Boris will honour his promise to help the North.”
Adrian McGreavy, 56
In the bustling Wednesday market, we struggled to find shoppers who would vote Labour. Leave voter Adrian McGreavy, 56, was selling his homemade cheese.
He said: “My dad John was an electrical engineer and a staunch Labour man like his father before him. That tradition has ended with me. I’ll be voting Conservative. I dislike Corbyn. I don’t believe he represents the working man.
“I trust Boris Johnson to carry through the will of the people and get us out of the EU. I think he wants to make sure the electorate are listened to and I trust him more than Corbyn, who has done everything he could to stop Brexit.”
John Rodenhurst, 64
This could be the first time John Rodenhurst, 64, has not voted Labour. The pie-stall owner says: “I’ve always been a Labour voter but this time I’m undecided, so maybe I am ‘Workington Man’.
“Johnson could have come back with the best deal in the world and Labour would never have supported it. Corbyn and the Labour set-up are out of touch.
“They don’t realise how deeply the attempts to shoot down Brexit have been felt in towns like this. I understand what I voted for and we’re being patronised by Corbyn and the Lib Dems. A lot of their MPs will be out of a job..
“In the beginning, I though Corbyn was a good leader, a traditional Labour man, not like Tony Blair, who was a Tory at heart anyway. Now I feel Corbyn is unelectable. I’m not sure which way to go but Brexit plays a big part in my thinking.”
Ryan Rodgers, 37
RYAN Rodgers, 37, has lived in Workington all his life. The boiler operator, a Labour supporter in the past, said: “Who I vote for will depend on what is good for me. I work for a Swedish company and regret voting for Brexit.”
David Exley, 64
Retired chemical engineer David Exley, 64, is a Labour member disillusioned over Brexit. He said: “It would be a stretch for me to vote Conservative. I’ve voted Labour all my life. I voted Leave after a lot of consideration. I knew exactly what I was voting for.
“I’m not fan of Boris Johnson. That man is a buffoon. But until he came along, I didn’t think we would Leave. It would have been the biggest deception of the people in my lifetime.”
Roland Mee, 77
Retired NHS finance worker Roland Mee, 77, has always voted Labour while his wife Pauline, 74, voted Tory. Both are Remainers.
Roland said: “Workington is a Labour town and I’ll be voting for them. I can’t remember such a divided time in politics. Me and my wife’s votes cancel each other out. We have a good, hard-working MP so I’ll vote as I’ve always done.”
Ian Dunbar, 71
IAN Dunbar, 71, used to work at the Sellafield nuclear plant 20 miles from Workington. He said: “I voted Labour under Blair and Lib Dem under Charles Kennedy. This time it’s all about Brexit.
“There is a whole world out there to trade with who will give us a better deal than the one we get from the EU. We voted Leave and that’s what we need to do. It should’ve happened by now and Johnson is the only one with the will to get that done.”
Grant Payne, 74
Hotelier Grant Payne, 74, said: “Labour are not as as strong as they used to be. But I don’t think Workington will swing. I will be voting Conservative. I always have.
“The biggest single issue will be Brexit. In fact, I think the Brexit Party will have an influence.”
Frederick Chandler, 69
FREDERICK CHANDLER, 69, grew up in Sunderland but has lived in Workington since 1991. The retired industrial process engineer said:
“Normally I vote Labour but because of the mess Parliament has made with Brexit, I’ve got to the stage where I would vote for Boris.
“He has a stronger attitude to leaving. The only downside to the Conservatives are all the cuts they have made. My voting is about 60 per cent Brexit and 40 per cent other issues, like the NHS. I’ve just come out of hospital after a stroke and the NHS is fantastic. If a party say they they will give the NHS more money, that’s a factor too.”
Maureen Mills, 81
But the last word must go to Workington Woman. Great-gran Maureen Mills, 81, a retired factory worker, says: “The North West is pushed to the back of the queue for everything.
“I’m sick of all the politics. I’ve always voted Labour but I don’t know now. Workington is what matters to me. I’m sick of hearing about Brexit.”