Election 2010: The battle for Redditch
Apr 12 2010 By Adam Aspinall
While anti-social behaviour is a key concern to voters in Redditch, Worcestershire, there is no doubt the expenses scandal will have a great impact on the way residents vote in the General Election. Adam Aspinall reports.
Two adult films and a question mark over a family home made Jacqui Smith one of the most high profile MPs embroiled in the expenses scandal.
Still reeling from the fallout, Ms Smith now fears she could lose her seat when voters go to the polls next month.
She said: “I’m not confident, when I was elected in 1997 I was not confident then, and never have been.
“I would never take the people of Redditch for granted and I know it is going to be tough, if you look at the polls at the moment I would lose.
“But I am not someone who walks away from a fight.”
That was certainly true of the red-faced former Home Secretary last summer, when she quickly repaid the money for the two films bought by her husband and Parliamentary assistant Richard Timney.
Although the row over her decision to class her sister’s house in south London as her main home, allowing her to claim back costs of running her family house in Redditch, went on for months.
Her embarrassing shopping list put forward as expenses also included a bath plug, and it may be this, and the blue movies, that voters will be thinking about when going to the polls next month.
Indeed, the Tories have high hopes of taking Redditch and Smith’s majority has dropped to a challenging 2,128, making it Labour’s 29th most vulnerable seats, with the Tories needing a 2.56 per cent swing to take it.
But in spite of the furore surrounding her, Ms Smith rejected the idea she could be the flashpoint in the election campaign in Redditch.
She said: “I don’t think I will be the main issue in the campaign because at the end of the day people are more worried about paying their mortgages and keeping their jobs then they are about the expenses scandal.
“I think I have been made a scapegoat in many ways because I had a very high profile.
“But when you look at the results of three independent inquiries, and what I was asked to pay back in the end, it was actually less than local MPs Peter Luff, Julie Kirkbride and Michael Spicer.”
Smith has already conceded it will be a difficult contest and the Tory candidate Karen Lumley has proclaimed she is ready to become the new sheriff in town, putting anti-social behaviour at the top of her agenda.
The 46-year-old mother-of-two believes that apart from the “dreadful” state of the economy, the issue which will get most voters to the polling booths is anti-social behaviour, which she says has blighted Redditch over the last decade.
On most indicators of criminal behaviour, Redditch is slightly higher than the national average and a cruel mix of recent recession and industrial decline has led to many people on the streets of the town thinking they are facing an unsolvable problem.
But not Lumley, the candidate who has lived in Redditch for the last decade, and has witnessed what she describes as a “broken society” emerge in front of her eyes.