THERE seems to be a common theme when speaking to the voters of Dudley North, and there’s no prizes for guessing what it is.

The dreaded B word has dominated political discourse ever since the referendum in 2016, with the constant will they/won’t they in Westminster leaving the country as divided as it was on the morning of June 24.

You won’t find much division over Brexit in Dudley North, however. The town had one of the highest leave majorities in the country (67.6 per cent) back in 2016 and, with the general election fast approaching, it remains a hot topic.

This means that, for many pundits, this crucial swing seat could go either way. Despite Dudley North never having had a Conservative MP, former Walsall Mayor Marco Longhi is being tipped by some to take the seat from Labour on December 12, where former Labour MP Ian Austin won a majority of just 22 votes over his Conservative counterpart back in 2017.

So is Brexit the most important issue of the upcoming election? The Local Democracy Reporting Service spoke to voters in Dudley North to find out what’s important to them.

“I think we need to get out of the EU now, and get Brexit done,” says Steven Mellward, out for the day in the town centre with his wife.

“I probably will vote Tory to get us out, that’s the most important thing at the moment. We need to get out, and Labour don’t have a proper policy.

“We should have been out in 2016 when we had the vote, but Johnson seems to want to get us out – well he said he does. But he needs to get a majority. If he gets a majority, we’ll be good. If he doesn’t then we’ll be at a stalemate again. To be honest with you I’d probably have voted for the Brexit Party, but they’ve pulled out.”

“Personally I was thinking of voting either Conservative or Brexit,” agrees Malcolm Beaumont, a recently retired BT employee.

“I’ll be voting on national and local issues, I should imagine. Because the whole country’s up in arms with this Brexit thing, and we’ve got to get it done. As soon as we get it done, the better.

“It’s the most important issue across the country, and it’s what’s going to win or lose the election.” 

Such frustration with the slow delivery of Brexit is one of the key issues in Dudley North, but it’s not the only concern of voters. One man, 69-year-old retiree Alan Shackleford, says that safety and listening to the concerns of local voters is what is most important to him – and he feels that Labour have the edge over other parties in this area.

“Locally I think politicians just aren’t doing enough for the infrastructure of the area, and for the people themselves,” he says.

“If you go to other parts of the UK and around the world, I’ve lived in over 60 different places, and I think they’re failing to grasp the potential they could have in cleaning up this area a little more, especially around the outskirts. And taking a little more notice of what local people say.

“I know there’s a lot of issues around immigration and things like that, but from my point of view there are more important things. I’ve been attacked in this town so many times, physically. I know guys my own age who say they won’t go out of a night any more, in the town, and instead they’ll have a quiet drink at home.

“Having said that I’ve even been attacked in my own house. And the police don’t seem to be able to do anything. So I think more needs to be done to safeguard local people. It seems as if we don’t matter.

“I think there’s this thing where the police would like to do more, but they have their hands tied. But I think more could be done locally to make sure people are safe. I’m not normally afraid, but I do feel afraid going out at night.”

Another key issue so far this election cycle has been that of leadership, and who the people of the UK want to take them forward after December 12.

One of those who sees this as an important concern is market trader Mike Hughes, who said he had been keen on former MP Ian Austin before he announced he would be stepping down last year.

However he now feels that, with Jeremy Corbyn as leader, he would not be able to vote Labour at the upcoming election.

“What’s important to me I think is that, whoever gets in to power, they deal with the NHS, education and public services,” he says.

“And Brexit as well, because I think the sooner we get that resolved the better.

“For me I think the Conservative Party – under Theresa May I had no confidence that they were going to do a lot, because I didn’t really consider her to be a strong leader.

“At least Boris Johnson with all his bluster and his comedy value, I do think he’s quite an intelligent guy. And quite well read, and I think he’s actually doing what he can to get us out of this stalemate that we’ve become used to for the past three years.

“I’m not a fan of Jeremy Corbyn, I don’t like his political views.

“Ian Austin was quite a decent guy for Labour in Dudley North, but I shall be looking at this as a national vote, in this instance. It’s a unique election I think.

“I don’t even think I’d vote Labour if Ian Austin was still running, as I don’t want Jeremy Corbyn to become Prime Minister of this country.”

When it comes to local issues there’s a lot of talk around Dudley Town Centre, and more money needing to be put into its regeneration.

However one couple, who only recently moved to the area, say they’ve barely heard a peep out of the local candidates on any of the issues.

“Obviously local issues are important,” says Hugh Burton.

“It’s good to see this market and some improvement to the town centre, though I’d like to see a lot more. Resources have been cut for people most in need in our local area, and I would like to see a lot more given to people who most need it.”

“We tried to arrange a hustings event, but that never got off the ground,” continues his wife, Alison.

“We’ve only heard from two of the candidates, Labour and Conservative, and only that was via a leaflet – we’ve actually heard very little from any of the candidates.

“So we’re still not 100 per cent sure which way we’ll go.”

Immigration, education and the NHS were just some of the many other topics covered by people in Dudley when asked about their most important issues, and it’s clear to see that the election has had a stirring impact on many within the constituency.

However, for this leave voting town it’s hard to shake the feeling that, for this election at least, it all comes down to Brexit.