General election 2015: Crawley - a town where immigrants get the blame for everything

In the first in a week-long series about next year’s election, Oliver Wright reports from the sort of marginal seat Labour has to win

It is always dangerous forming conclusions on the basis of a small snapshot of opinion.

But when you speak to around two dozen people in three different locations and the vast majority – unprompted and vehemently – say that immigration is the political issue they feel most strongly about, it is hard not to form some certainties.

And when those people live in one of the more marginal constituencies in the country you begin to understand why politicians of all parties are, in different ways, struggling to address the problem.

Most of these voters in Crawley – a new town built in the shadow of Gatwick Airport – are reluctant to give their full names. But they’re not racist. They just feel successive governments have got it wrong.

Take Joan – a woman in her early 60s.

“People round here can’t get jobs; can’t get housing and they’re living on benefits because they can’t do anything but,” she says. “Then you’ve got loads of people coming over here because they think the streets are paved with gold.”

Then there is Patsy whose son left for Australia because, she says, London was too expensive for him to get on the property ladder.

“Those people coming from the EU get houses. My children have never been able to get houses. I don’t mind so much a few refugees because I hate to think of people really suffering in the world. But it’s not right as it is.”

Or Heather Kington, whose daughter cannot return to the UK with her Australian husband because, ironically, of laws designed to stop foreign immigrants going abroad to marry and automatically bringing their spouses back to the UK.

“He can’t come in unless she has come over first and worked for something like £20,000 a year. That’s my number one real big bugbear because they let all and sundry in from the EU.”

But she won’t be voting for Ukip because her son is gay and Ukip are “against gays”. Such are the vagaries of the ballot box.

If Ed Miliband is to walk into Downing Street next May he will almost certainly have to win in Crawley.

It is a key swing constituency – Tory throughout the Eighties to 1997, Labour until 2010 and now again Conservative with a majority for the sitting MP Henry Smith of 5,928. Last time round Ukip only got around 1,400 votes.

Where the Liberal Democrat vote goes next year is likely to be crucial. Last time they got 14 per cent of the vote – but it is hard to find anyone in Crawley who will vote for Nick Clegg’s party in 2015.

The party has no presence on the local council and Liberal Democrat headquarters could find nobody in the area to talk about their campaign.

Labour’s candidate is Chris Oxlade, an engaging former local radio DJ who stood and lost in 2010 after the sitting MP, Laura Moffatt, stood down.

Joining him and several local councillors canvassing in the mainly Labour-supporting Broadfield part of Crawley it is clear that the party has re-energised its base from  four years ago.

The party has made steady gains in the local borough council elections and could take control when voters go to the polls later this month.

If fact, if the swings of last year’s council elections were reproduced in 2015, then that would result in the Conservatives winning just 31.1 per cent of the vote and Labour taking the seat with 40.7 per cent. And that is before factoring in Ukip.

Mr Smith should be looking over his shoulder.

Mr Oxley says that the key to a Labour victory is getting the party’s core vote out.

“If we get in it won’t be on the back of Lib Dem votes – it will be on the back of voters returning to Labour.”

As for immigration,  Mr Oxley says: “There is a concern from people we speak to on the doorstep. It’s in the top five worries for people definitely. But Crawley has always had immigration.

“It was the Irish who came over and built the town and we’ve got people who are still there today. We’ve got the highest BME (black and minority ethnic) population of any new town.

“It is a political problem – I’m sure it is. But is it the only problem? No. The No. 1 issue is when will our quality of life improve.”

He may have a point. But outside a school in Langley Green, which is a poorer part of town that should be a Labour stronghold, immigration was also the dominant issue.

Those parents meeting children were mainly first-generation immigrants both from eastern Europe and further afield, many of whom spoke little English.

Those white parents outside the school gates were angry and resentful.

“I don’t want to sound racist, that’s the thing,” said Nikayla before admitting that immigration is the one thing that really riles her.

“I’m white English but really this should be a Muslim school because of all the Muslims here. It’s not really an English school.”

Her friend Chelsea had her six-year-old daughter with her who had been unable to get a place at the school because it was already full.

“She was first on the waiting list and then September comes and all these others come and she’s third on the list. They seem to get priority if they come from abroad.”

So how does Mr Smith address these concerns and prevent the Tory vote haemorrhaging to Ukip?

“It would be wrong for any candidate to say immigration is not an issue on the doorstep because it is,” he says. “But I do think the overwhelming concern among voters is the economy. And here things are really improving.

“I believe these elections will be the high watermark for Ukip and we are also seeing evidence of Labour also losing votes to them as well so I am cautiously optimistic.”

He may well be right. But it is hard not to think that even from the high watermark, Ukip’s current support will have to collapse pretty spectacularly not to increase a lot on their 2010 vote. And when there are only a few thousand votes in the contest it is really too close to call.

Crawley man (and Crawley woman) could easily replace their Essex counterparts as the “face” of 2015.

2010 election results

Henry Smith (Con) 21,264

Chris Oxlade (Lab) 15,336

John Vincent (Lib Dem) 6,844

Richard Trower (BNP) 1,672

Chris French (Ukip) 1,382

Phil Smith (Green) 598

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Arts and Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio talks during the press conference for the film

Film follows park rangers in the Congo

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery assistants required in Cambridgeshire

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

History Teacher

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

** Female PE Teacher Urgently Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Cover Supervisors Urgently Required In Knowsley **

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album