Three constituencies, three very different MPs: The battle to keep their seats

ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana joins three MPs as they meet their constituents ahead of a looming general election

When MPs return to parliament next week, they know a general election is now looming.

This could be their last session before a national vote in either spring or (more likely) autumn 2024. 

This summer, Lucy McDaid and I spent time in three different constituencies to try to understand what issues are most important to constituents right now- and what politicians are likely to have been hearing in the months away from Westminster. 

First we went to two, very different Conservative-held seats; Ashfield in the Midlands, Romsey and Southampton North, close to the south coast.

Ashfield, held by Tory vice chair Lee Anderson, is classic red wall. Or at least it was. Until the Tories won it in 2019, it had been solidly Labour for decades. 

Lee Anderson is joined by ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana Credit: ITV News

Even Anderson - who says you'd have been chased down the street as a Tory in the past - worked for the Labour Party before switching sides (a move that he told me, made his son cry). 

Romsey has a very different feel and it's MP, Caroline Nokes, is also very different to Anderson. She's a more liberal MP and is facing Liberal Democrats in a seat that has a more Conservative tradition, although it was Lib Dem pre 2010. 

What became clear was the challenge facing Rishi Sunak in attempting to hold together the coalition of voters built by his predecessor, Boris Johnson, in 2019. 

In Ashfield, Anderson said his inbox was filled with local council issues (mentioning potholes top of the list) but then illegal migration.

He was outspoken on the latter, claiming migrants were given luxury accommodation something he said  was "disgusting". 

When it was put to him that people must be desperate to board a dinghy and cross the channel he said he did not believe that - destroying the suggestion as "totally wrong". And the issue was raised by constituents. 

Caroline Nokes talks to Anushka Asthana. Credit: ITV News

But Nokes argued that it wasn't top of the list in her southern seat.

She argued voters wanted to get the asylum backlog down but also ensure Britain was a safe haven for those fleeing persecution.

When I said she didn't sound much like Anderson she said, "she didn't" and that hers was a different type of constituency.

She said the Tory party was a broad church.

And there is the challenge.

While some voters are telling MPs the tough policy on asylum and migration is welcome, one voter in Romsey told me they found it totally off putting and unacceptable.

They said they despised the Tories nationally but would vote for Nokes because she was so good at getting back to them and helping them locally. 

Nokes said a big issue for her constituents, which poses a massive challenge for the government, are interest rates and mortgages.

She said the PM needed to reassure people that financially things would ease but admitted it was tough. She also said it meant she could take nothing for granted in the next election. 

Labour meanwhile have a massive challenge electorally, despite being miles ahead in the polls.

They need to translate that lead into an election, in which they hold onto every seat they have and win 123 more (and that's for a majority of just one). 

Labour needs to push up majorities in constituencies like Houghton and Sunderland South in northeast England- and win back dozens of seats in the surrounding areas.

Labour MP Bridget Phillipson Credit: PA

If they can achieve that then the local MP, Bridget Phillipson, will become education secretary. 

In her seat the dominant issue by far was cost of living, detailed in heartbreaking interviews with foodbank providers.

One said it seemed so wrong that people in work were having to come. A couple said they just saw poverty everywhere. 

And at a local community providing free fun for kids on holiday, many felt their area had been forgotten. 

One thing they said was that it was hard to prioritise net zero when there was such a struggle just to get food. 

Back in Ashfield, Anderson argued that the climate crisis didn't come up much, saying if you asked 100 people on the street 90 would not be bothered.

MP Lee Anderson is confronted over the climate crisis. Credit: ITV News

Then a man in the local market started berating him about the government burning fossil fuels and damaging the atmosphere. 

Anderson pointed out he wasn't his constituent- but from a nearby (he claimed "leafier") seat.

And he did not hold back, asking the man how he drove there and accusing him of being part of the problem when he said a diesel van. 

The man himself said it was for the government to stop producing the stuff - and that he couldn't afford to change vehicle. They also argued about MPs pay. 

This was a man who voted Tory in 2019 and wouldn't now- again underlying the challenge for Sunak.

Could his shift to the right on the climate leave him exposed with traditional Tory voters who care about the environment? And could the same be true with immigration?

A challenge for the Tories - but arguably for Labour too. 

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