General election 2015: It's Williams vs Williams with all to play for in razor-edge Cardiff North

Spiro and Naomi Gropetis are a Cardiff North success story. Their Miss Jones bar and restaurant in the middle of Whitchurch Village, a vibrant aspirational area three miles from the Welsh capital’s city centre, is a recent addition to a region where cosmopolitan cafes nestle happily alongside high street chains and local butchers.

Yet despite their progress, the couple speak of having reached a ceiling. They feel that rising taxes in the years they have spent building up a business that now employs 85 people, combined with difficulties in securing loans or finding new retail space, is halting their ambitions.

“A lot of what governments have done, like the minimum wage or pension reform, has been good, but costs are rising,” Naomi says when we meet for a chat at their Top Gun Fish Bar on the high street, one of three they own in Cardiff.

“When VAT and the minimum wage go up we take the hit. We can’t pass it on as there’s only so much people are going to pay for chips. Fuel is going up. It’s not a level playing field either. Gregg’s is just one example where big business has found a loophole so their customers don’t have to pay tax on a hot coffee and hot pasty, but ours do if they want hot food. Small and medium businesses lose out, independents are struggling to grow.”

A new EU directive coming into force later this year means all food labels must identify allergens – for Spiro and Naomi it will probably mean information boards displayed around their shops and represents another extra cost. Margins are being squeezed. It is a typical story you hear in Whitchurch.

“There’s no cream left in the business,” says Spiro. “We’re just left with the scrapings and if there’s anything left we’re lucky.”

Who secures a large chunk of the business vote at next year’s election will be vital in a constituency that returned Conservative Jonathan Evans in 2010 with a majority of just 194 – the 13th smallest winning margin in the UK – over Labour incumbent Julie Morgan.

Until the New Labour landslide of 1997, the seat was held by the Tories at every election bar 1966, but with Mr Evans standing down and Mrs Morgan, the wife of former minister Rhodri, now sitting in the Welsh Assembly, the battle is well and truly on between two bright young things of British politics for the future of Cardiff North. The Lib Dems won more than 18 per cent of the vote in 2010 but their support is expected to plummet and it is obvious from spending a day here that locals are not looking much beyond Labour’s Mari Williams and her unrelated counterpart Craig Williams, a Conservative city councillor.

“People want to have a go and take risks,” says Ms Williams, much like she did when cycling around the world in 2012 while on hiatus from her deputy head teacher role in Hackney, London, where she taught for a decade. “It’s about having a culture where it’s ok to take risks and fail, much like in America. That’s what I learned from being there. If you have small, local thriving businesses like you do here, that has to be key to the recovery.”

Ms Williams, a local who went to school in Whitchurch, advocates a sliding scale of business rates citing supermarket giant Tesco’s ability to pay the same rates for its shops as their independent counterparts as an example of an issue that is “not quite right”.

Unemployment in the UK is growing fastest in Wales, as David Cameron pointed out in Prime Minister’s Questions on the same day I arrived in Cardiff North. On the flip side, the country was also singled out in yet another stinging Tory attack on Labour’s “cutting” of the NHS in Wales. The Prime Minister even said recently the whole country is a scandal waiting to happen, claiming that Offa’s Dyke has become a dividing line “between life and death”.

Ms Williams admits the NHS frequently comes up on the doorstep. “But that’s an issue wherever you go,” she says. “People are passionate - they don’t want the NHS to be privatised.”

Although Mr Williams, a school governor originally from mid-Wales, and who has lived in Cardiff for more than 10 years, disagrees with the language Mr Cameron and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt have used in Tory attacks on NHS Wales, he says when they describe Wales as “another mid-Staffs waiting to happen” they are simply quoting bodies such as the Royal College of Nursing.

“With the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff North you can’t escape the NHS,” says Mr Williams in a Costa on Cardiff Bay. “If you walk around for more than 20 minutes you’ll meet a consultant, nurse or doctor. All of them say the same thing: we don’t like the NHS treated as a political football but we want an honest debate about the future of the NHS.”

Cardiff North is a strongly middle class area with 87 per cent owner occupied-homes. Crime rates are some of the lowest on the UK, and pensioners feel safe and secure in the area while upwardly mobile young professionals are keen to move in. Yet for an area largely untouched by immigration it is extraordinary how many people cite this as a top-three voting issue occasionally referring to “them” when describing immigrants.

Martin Player, the owner of High Class Butchers, places immigration alongside health as at the top of his personal concerns.

“It has not changed around here,” he says, “but we have got to get it under control.”

It is a familiar refrain but, as one local said: “Everyone here reads the Daily Mail or the Daily Express. If you read those newspapers every day for 10 years you’d be worried about immigration too.”

Back on Whitchurch high street DeliaGoGo owners Nick and Bev Davidson put party leadership as a priority: “I couldn’t vote for Labour with Gordon Brown as leader,” says Nick, before moving on to immigration. “We are changing to accommodate people that are occupying whole areas, but we’ve not decided who’ll get our vote yet.”

Mr Williams acknowledges the importance to the area of business leaders like Spiro and Naomi. “They are the engine room of the economy because they slog their guts out,” he says. “Miss Jones has completely reinvigorated the high street. People like them are at the forefront of economic growth.”

Spiro and Naomi, typical of local traders, remained uncommitted. Perhaps the only certainty in Cardiff North is a Williams will win come 2015, but which one?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
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

Ampersand Consulting LLP: 3rd Line Support Engineer (Windows Server, Exchange Server)

£35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: 3rd Line Support Engine...

Investigo: Finance Analyst

£240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: Server / Infrastructure Engineer (Exchange, Windows, VMware)

£32000 - £38000 per annum + Bonus and Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Serv...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: Virtualisation / Cloud Infrastructure Engineer (VMware, Cloud)

£38000 - £44000 per annum + Bonus and Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Virt...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum