Conservative Party Conference: Rotherham man takes dim view of Hague

WILLIAM HAGUE says he sees the people of his childhood home of Rotherham as the kind the Tories must win over to his dream of "the British way ahead" if they are to recapture 10 Downing Street.

As the Conservative leader arrives back in London from Bournemouth, however, he should reflect that the people of Rotherham may prove reluctant partners. "The words snowball and Hell come to mind," said Phil Caplan, owner of Howard Books, in the town's central square. Mr Caplan, erudite, educated and open-minded, was nevertheless adamant: "The whole culture of this place is Labour. I can't see that changing."

He is one of the more optimistic ones. More representative were Tasha Milner and Kerri Congleton, secretaries at a construction company. On being presented with Mr Hague's proposal, they burst out laughing: "You're not serious, eh?"

"He calls himself a local," said Ms Congleton, a first-time voter (Labour, naturally) in the last election. "But just because he went to a government school doesn't make him one of us. My uncle was at school with him and said he was a right little runt."

Today's Rotherham, despite grand buildings in the centre, a poignant reminder of its Victorian wealth, is a poverty traps. Discount stores vie with each other around All Saints Church; JobCentres offer mainly menial work. There are more Tommy Hilfiger fakes than cloth caps, but people look weary, disillusioned.

Rotherham, in the heart of South Yorkshire's once thriving steel and coal belt, is as Labour as Dennis Skinner. The MP, Dennis McShane, has a majority of 21,500. Unemployment is among the highest in Britain. Of 66 councillors, 65 are Labour, one Conservative. Old Labour traditionalism has been reinforced in concrete during the past 20 years: under the Conservatives, 11 of the 12 coalmines closed, as thousands lost their jobs; the steel industry was also run down. Many locals still describe Labour, despite Tony Blair's modernisation, as "the family".

Stuart Charmack, a former teacher who works in a shop, said: "Labour could put a poodle up for candidate and he'd still get voted in. As Yorkshire folk we're extremely proud of our industrial heritage. So much damage was done by the Tories it's hard to see anyone ever wanting them in power, no matter what the Labour Party does."

Intellectually, many Rotherhamites are middle-of-the-road, rational, potential floating voters like so many around the country; but tradition and obligation overrule intellect. Mr Caplan would be a natural Tory voter in many other parts of the country. "Small businessmen like us saw the Conservatives take away the spending power of so many of my customers," he said. "And because unemployment is so high, employers can pay minimum wages and get away with it. Labour would have to do something incredibly detrimental to this place for the Tories ever to have a chance."

When he targets Rotherham Person, though, Mr Hague, as a local who was schooled here, must know what he is up against. When he speaks of conservative values (with a small `c'), he is speaking of the place he was schooled at, the values of traditional Britain. For this is a place where radical change is frowned on. "That's why Scargill's party don't get any votes," said Roy Kearnsley, a former miner living out his years on retirement benefit and drinking in the Angel pub, in the town centre. "He may have stood up for us but he's a Bolshevik."

The Pakistani population is smaller than that of Sheffield, seven miles away, but the welcome for them has never been warm; many old Socialists grumbled when Naz Ahmed, a councillor, was appointed to the House of Lords this year. "Don't get many of you around 'ere" was a comment this reporter, an Iranian, received in several pubs in the suburbs: it was delivered in a tone that suggested that change would not be entirely welcomed.

Rotherham is trying to inculcate an enterprise culture, whose participants may eventually find their natural home inside the party of Margaret Thatcher: 1,200 jobs have been created in the past year, many in the high-tech sector; the rate of new business start-ups is one of the highest in the region. The most typical voter attitude of the youngest generation is apathy and hostility, not Labour allegiance.

The young are Britain's poor, and their politics are those of drugs, alcohol and despair. Even those with jobs have little time for politics. "I'll vote for whatever party provides best for my little girl," said Susan Whiteley, who works in a household goods shop. "Even though she ruined this place, I think Britain needs somebody like that Thatcher. At least she knew what she thought. None of this lot do."

Marie Hodgkinson, managing a shop in the town's arcade, said: "Do any of them down there know what it's like to be a shop manager and still have to save up for weeks every time you want to have a meal out? ... We earn in five years what an MP earns in one, and we work harder."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
footballHe started just four months ago
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect