Labour deputy leader Tom Watson visits Halifax as general election campaign kicks off

Tom WatsonTom Watson
Tom Watson
LABOUR DEPUTY leader Tom Watson believes the party's promise on pensions could help win back Ukip voters in key seats in Yorkshire.

The party is desperate to hang onto a string of seats in West Yorkshire where it had a narrow margin of victory over the Conservatives in 2015.

Mr Watson toured Labour-held Batley and Spen, Dewsbury and Halifax over the weekend, seats where Ukip together attracted more than 20,000 votes two years ago.

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It has been suggested Ukip may struggle to maintain that level of support now that Britain has voted to leave the European Union.

How that group decides to vote could go a long way determining the results of a swathe of constituencies.

Senior Conservative figures including Theresa May have refused to commit the party to standing by the so-called triple lock on pensions.

Mr Watson said: “The characteristic of the Ukip voter is they are a little bit older.

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“You now actually have a dividing line for people who are on state pensions where the Government have said they are not committed to David Cameron’s triple-lock on pensions and John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn have been emphatic they are going to retain that.

“So there is a very distinct pensioner offer from Labour in this election that perhaps you could say we haven’t emphasized in the 2015 election.

“The Tories are sort of backing off on their commitment to older voters. Now that might have an impact on people who have voted Ukip but I think it’s too early to tell on that.”

Mr Watson admitted it was “hard to know” who previous Ukip supporters would support this time and it was possible they could go “in all directions”.

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“I do think the closer you get to polling day, particularly in this election and partly what Theresa May has already said, I think people will come to the conclusion they’ve got two choices, a Labour government or a Tory government.

“I do think people will really consider what kind of government they want but we’ll have to see where that goes.”

Sitting MPs are considered to have an advantage because they are familiar to voters and can point to their record.

But Dewsbury and Halifax MPs Paula Sherriff and Holly Lynch were only elected for the first time in 2015 while Batley and Spen MP Tracy Brabin entered Parliament last year following the by-election triggered by the murder of predecessor Jo Cox.

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Mr Watson acknowledged it would be harder for Ms Brabin but argued Ms Lynch and Ms Sherriff had already made a significant impact after just two years in the Commons.

He said: “In both Halifax and Dewsbury both MPs have developed quite a high profile for the various campaigns they have been running.

“Holly, I would say she is now known as a national expert on policing and has been campaigning very strongly on security issues and police cuts in particular and I am sure that will form part of her incumbency campaign.

“In Dewsbury, Paula has run some fantastic campaigns in Westminster. I think she has distinguished herself for being able to take issues she picks in Dewsbury and taking them down to Westminster and turning them into concessions from the Government.”

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The early days of the snap election the Conservatives have already tried to portray Labour as the party of high taxation but Mr Watson insisted they would struggle to make the accusation stick.

“I believe the Tories have called this election because Philip Hammond wants to tax small businesses,” he said.

“You saw their manifesto pledges in 2015, broken in the Budget, and one of the big challenges for the Government will be are they going to make that commitment not to put taxes on small businesses in their next manifesto? It looks like they are not going to and that will be a key issue in the campaign for me. In Brexit Britain it is going to be small businesses that get this country economically stable again and we are going to fight them all the way on that.”