Deep disillusionment down on Bolton's Prescott Street

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Indy Politics

What better port in a storm for the man known affectionately by his former diary secretary as "DPM" than the Rumworth Ward Labour Club, in Prescott Street, Bolton?

The Labour election posters adorning the windows offer no clue that the Liberal Democrats recently broke the party's 24 years of uninterrupted town hall rule. The trophy cabinet is festooned with silverware from the days when every self-respecting Boltonian voted Labour.

Now the atmosphere is one of disillusionment. Step into the snooker room and it becomes clear that Mr Prescott and his beleaguered ministerial colleagues will find no succour here.

"The Prescott business is no surprise," said Steve, a political neutral who uses the club to hone his considerable potting skills. "Once they get in they are all the same." His opponent, Dave, concurred. "Won't catch me voting," he murmured. Paul Diamond, watching the sport on a nearby television, offered homespun wisdom that Charles Clarke's department could have done with in the past six months. "When immigrants go to prison they should have a form with the word 'deport' written on it," he said. "That story has shocked me."

This outlook is not terribly helpful for a local Labour group which, in the Education Secretary Ruth Kelly's constituency backyard, lost Bolton council to the Liberal Democrats two years ago and harbours hopes of pinching it back in one of the closest three-way contests in the Greater Manchester town's history. Just three seats separate the main parties.

There's no disguising the frustration felt by the Labour leader Clifford Morris about Labour's current travails, and Mr Prescott's in particular. "The timing could have been better," he conceded. "I'm not saying we've not all got skeletons in cupboards but my disappointment is that we have a lot of young people standing and our first Asian woman [the local NHS trust senior manager Sufrana Bashir-Ismail]. She could have done with some help, not hindrance."

To makes matter worse, Mr Morris actually thought he was on to an electoral winner with his campaign team's "hot topic": rubbish. The new Liberal Democrat administration decided to increase recycling levels by collecting general refuse every other week, but the environmental case does not seem to have curried too much favour in these parts. "To empty your bins every week, vote Labour," counters the party's posters. It's hardly a campaign in the finest Labour traditions, but these things evidently matter on the doorstep.

At the Albert Inn, down the road from the Labour club, Brian Smith is more interested in "all those murderers they've let out" than his dustbins. "It's wrong," he barked, jabbing out the index finger of a bejewelled hand. "Prescott, I can put up with. Good luck to him if he's got time for it. But Clarke should be kicked out for letting those immigrants out."

Mr Smith may refuse Labour his vote on Thursday and join the vast ranks of Boltonians who cannot be bothered to vote.

At the nearby Newport Street Bridge, Zhahid Mohammed fears that the Home Office's error will create greater suspicion of the Asian population in Bolton, a town which has enjoyed relatively harmonious multiculturalism in recent years. "It's drawn attention to the criminal immigrant element," he said.

The local Labour group is banking on other issues to take the sting out of the party's woes. Other local controversies include the Liberal Democrats' decision, since taking control, to spend £90,000 on a new corporate branding for the council, which its opponents claim is a waste of money.

But separating out local and national issues can be tricky. As Patricia Hewitt was under attack from the Royal College of Nursing last week, the Bolton Evening News was revealing how the Royal Bolton Hospital must lose £6m from its budget.

"I'm not saying the events of the past few days will stop us taking back the council," said Mr Morris. "We won't know until Friday morning. But until then, we do have work to do."

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