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Coming home or parachuted? Hyndburn battle focuses on local credentials

The fight to be MP for Hyndburn & Haslingden is straightforward according to the polls - but both candidates have moved to stress their local credentials

June 06 2024, 10.00am

A year ago, it looked as though two very familiar names would once again be battling each other when Hyndburn & Haslingden was given the chance to vote in a General Election.

Graham Jones and Sara Britcliffe had contested the seat in 2019 and not long ago were lined up to do so again this time around. Jones had been the MP since 2010, winning three times before Britcliffe became part of the big Conservative win in 2019, taking the East Lancashire seat from him.

She had been a councillor on Hyndburn Borough Council for around 18 months before that election, while her dad Peter Britcliffe is a well known political figure who has previously led the local authority and remains a county councillor. Since then, she has been named a Parliamentary Private Secretary, the party's Vice-Chairman for Youth, and its Deputy Chairman for Campaigning and Candidates.

But while it had looked like it would once again be a battle between Britcliffe and Jones, that is no longer the case. Jones was suspended by the party for comments made about Israel earlier this year. That suspension was lifted last month, in the same week that Blackpool councillor Sarah Smith was announced as the party’s new candidate for the seat.

In the meantime, the political landscape has changed dramatically. From the big Conservative majority in 2019, the party’s popularity has tanked nationally. The turmoil of three Prime Ministers, partygate, Liz Truss crashing the economy, and crumbling public services have seemingly left the country desperate for change.

Alongside polls predicting a landslide Labour win, the local picture points to Labour popularity. The council is now back under Labour control and electoral forecasters say the constituency is likely to follow too.

According to projections from YouGov, based on a survey of 60,000 people, Hyndburn and Haslingden is likely to return a Labour MP. Its forecast predicts the party claiming 52% of the vote, double the Conservative share of 25%. In the wake of the local elections last month, Britcliffe admitted to The Hyndburn Lead that she had a battle on her hands to keep hold of her seat.

But despite all this, Britcliffe remains defiant and confident she can hold onto her role as MP. Casting doubt on those forecasts, she said: “They had Hyndburn down as being Labour in 2019 so I’m conscious of what happened then. I’m working hard, knocking on doors and the response is positive.”

Speaking to The Hyndburn Lead during a rainy day of canvassing, she said the attitudes of people she’s spoken with have been very different to what the polls suggest.


Sara Britcliffe kicks off her campaign in Hyndburn


She said: “I’m a local person, I’ve lived here all my life, worked here. I know most of the people here because I’m out here all of the time, not just when it’s an election.”

Pushed on this point and the apparent implication this contrasts with Labour’s selection, Sara continued: “The fact is it was the NEC that imposed [the decision] on Hyndburn. She’s a councillor in Blackpool. In Hyndburn and Haslingden, people want someone they know and they trust. I feel like I’ve proven that I put residents first. If I am honoured with being elected again, I’ll continue to do that.”

While the party nationally has faced scandal after scandal, she hopes people will reflect positively on her own work as well as the Levelling Up funding given to Accrington.

Smith, who was elected in seaside town’s Marton ward in 2023, has long worked as charity leader, most recently with Right to Succeed which supports children in deprived areas. She had previously tried for selection in Blackpool South and was announced as the Labour candidate in this seat at a time when the party was refusing to comment on whether Jones was eligible for selection or not.

The announcement was met with delight from those who know her and cynicism from many who don’t. Among the responses to a welcome post on the local Labour Facebook page were “Doesn’t even live in Hyndburn or Haslingden, & has no connection to our area” and “Why has it been decided to parachute someone from Blackpool into this constituency?”

Similar remarks have been made on non-Labour pages but Smith insists the impression she’s an out-of-towner is wide of the mark. She said: “This is, for my family, coming back home.

“My husband grew up in Rishton, his dad was the vicar at St Peter and Paul’s and we got married there. When the opportunity arose, we thought long and hard and this is a place we want to raise a family, a place we want to fight for. That's what places like this need, someone to fight for them."

Confirming plans for the family, who will now juggle an election campaign with taking care of three-month-old baby Elijah, to move into the constituency, she said: “If it hadn’t been so personal to us here, we might not have felt this was the right time.”

Smith also said that by entering she hoped to encourage and enable other women to see the world of politics as one which can be entered.

She did not wish to talk about what’s gone on before, brushing away the subject matter of Jones and his suspension, instead saying she wishes to focus on the future. “What we’re focusing on locally is delivering for our residents. I’ve had an incredible response, everyone's been really welcoming.”

On what she wants for Hyndburn and Haslingden, she added: “We do need to see huge investment in our high street. Currently there are far too many units which are empty and buildings which need to be repaired.

“But it goes far beyond buildings. We need to invest in people, we need to invest in skills. We  need to turn back the closures of youth centres.”

While the polls may suggest Labour will reclaim Hyndburn and Haslingden, Smith says those involved in the campaign will not get overconfident. “We feel very positive here but we’re not complacent. We know that until the 4th of July, we’ll keep working hard to win people’s votes.

“The reality is over 14 years of Conservative rule, there is apathy from people. They really question what politics can do for them and we have to answer that.”

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