Keighley constituency profile: The bellwether seat with just a 249 majority

When I met John Grogan, then Keighley MP, at an event on Yorkshire devolution a few months back, he was asked by another guest whether he was happy to be there.

A stock photo of Ilkley, in the Keighley constituency. Photo: JPI Media

“I’m happy to be anywhere with a 249 majority,” he joked.

The quip revealed the tenuous nature of Mr Grogan’s seat in the West Yorkshire town.

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Consider a bellwether pick, the area has only returned an MP whose party did not form the Government twice - once in 1979 and then again with Mr Grogan tiny majority - the eighth smallest in the country - in 2017.

Now, as polling puts it down to just one percentage point between Labour and the Tories, it is all to play for.

“Keighley represents England in all it’s magnificent diversity,” Mr Grogan said.

He said big issues for voters included Airedale Hospital, which is 50 years old this year, and a long-running battle over building an incinerator.

Despite councillors approving the construction of the controversial incinerator, Government minister Dr Therese Coffey earlier this year suggested it would not go ahead.

Speaking in the Commons Dr Coffey said “additional residual waste energy capacity above that already planned to 2020 should not be needed if we achieve our recycling targets”.

Mr Grogan said at the time: “This is a remarkable statement from a Government minister that by implication indicates there is no need for more incinerators like that planned in

Keighley.”Despite many big local issues for voters to grapple over, though, Mr Grogan said many people on the doorstep had not yet decided how they would vote.

He said this was more so the case than in any of the previous eight elections he had fought in.

He said: “About a quarter of people have voted already [through postal votes], the election is already a quarter done.

“At the same time there are a lot of people who haven’t decided yet, I’ll be trying to swing that vote.”

On those contesting elections in safe seats he added: “It’s a completely different experience, it must be.

“I can’t imagine how it must be to fight an election knowing you’re going to win, it does give an edge to it.

“A small majority keeps you honest.”

Mr Grogan’s big competition will be Robbie Moore, a Tory newcomer to the area.

Mr Moore admitted he was surprised to have been put in such a marginal seat, considering these usually go to party members who have served as special advisers to ministers or who have already been in politics for a while. Although he has served as a councillor on Northumberland County Council and Alnwick Town Council - he lived in Alnwick before relocating to Ilkley in the summer.

“I moved here expecting the election to be in 2022,” he said.

“But Keighley is a straight fight, a two-party race.”

Other candidates standing include Tom Franks (Liberal Democrats), Waqas Khan (Brexit Party), Mark Barton (Yorkshire Party) and Matthew Rose (SDP).

The Greens have not put a candidate up and pro-EU organisation Best for Britain have said it would take just 29 Green and Lib Dem voters to switch to Labour to defeat Mr Moore.

While Mr Franks, the Lib Dem candidate, did not respond when this newspaper contacted him for this piece.

Mr Moore said: “I would always say to people vote with your heart and on Brexit a vote for any other party in this constituency is not going to deliver Brexit in respect of the referendum result.”

The Tory candidate said he had also teamed up with Shipley candidate Philip Davies in a bid to create a new local authority covering the two patches, breaking them away from Labour-run Bradford City Council.

He said: “I’m getting people who have voted Labour all their life saying they can’t vote for Corbyn. John Grogan said at the Ilkley hustings he wanted to see Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister.”

This reluctance to vote for Mr Corbyn was reflected by Marie Lynn, 72, who was shopping in the town’s Airedale Centre.

But it was not enough to sway her to lend her vote to Mr Moore.

She said: “We’ve always voted Labour in my house, I don’t really like what Jeremy Corbyn is doing though.”

While elsewhere on Keighley’s streets many still seemed undecided on their vote.

One woman, waiting for a bus, said: “I don’t even want to vote but I feel like I have to.”

Another, a young mother, said: “I feel like politicians have forgotten about me.”

She added: “All they want to talk about is Brexit.”

With under a week still to go in the election campaigning, there is plenty of time for either major party to swing votes in their direction - and with just one per cent between them, the needle will not have to move far to tip the balance.