25 November 2019

General election 2019

Wealth: what’s on your mind?

For the second week of our election tour, we visited Birmingham, Grimsby, Glasgow and South Cambridgeshire – and talked about money, or the absence of it

By Tortoise editors

A ThinkIn at the Rupert Brookes pub in Grantchester, near Cambridge

For this, our second week of election campaign ThinkIns, we returned to Birmingham and Grimsby, and held our first gatherings in Glasgow and South Cambridgeshire. Though many other issues and anxieties arose, the thread connecting the four discussions around the country was one of Tortoise’s five main themes, Wealth: work, tax, inequality, property, and the role of government in the nurturing – or destruction – of prosperity.

Although our editors were there to listen, they also had something on their minds: a recent report called Feel poor, work more by the Resolution Foundation think-tank. Its argument is multilayered, although the short version is that Britain’s recent employment boom is explained in large part by need – for money. As the graphics below show, people are working longer hours in order to make ends meet. This is particularly true of certain groups, such as mothers in couples.

Why do we mention this? Because it was striking how often the same story was told at our ThinkIns. Voters are feeling poorer, they are working more.



Last week, we were in Birmingham Yardley. This week, we visited Ark St Alban’s Academy, in the nearby constituency of Birmingham Ladywood, where Labour’s Shabana Mahmood is defending a majority of close to 29,000.

There were 40 pupils aged 16-19 gathered in the school’s library; articulate, intelligent and full of ideas for the future – though conspicuously less interested in Westminster politics, which they regarded with general disdain.

Key points:

A final point: not surprisingly, climate emergency was a high priority for this group of teenagers: interestingly, however, they expressed little enthusiasm for Extinction Rebellion (XR) or Greta Thunberg, comparing XR unfavourably to the civil rights movement of the Sixties.

We’ll be returning to Birmingham Yardley before polling day – do please join us.

3 December, 6:30pm, Arthur Moore Hall, book here.

Matt d’Ancona


South Cambridgeshire

In the upstairs room of a pub in the carefully manicured village of Grantchester, just outside Cambridge, we might have felt as far as it’s possible to get on this small island from Grimsby or inner-city Birmingham. Instead, what was most striking was how connected we felt.

Grantchester is in the South Cambridgeshire constituency where Heidi Allen has been the MP since 2015 (she is now stepping down). Though this has traditionally been a safe-as-houses Conservative seat (and Remain-voting), the question in this election is whether it will go on the same spiritual journey as Allen herself, away from the Conservatives towards the Lib Dems.

Key points:

We’ll be returning to South Cambridgeshire twice before the election. Please come along.

26 November, 6:30pm, The Hub Community Centre, book here.

10 December, 6:30pm, The Blue School, book here.

Ceri Thomas



Grimsby is often seen as a bellwether of the strength of political anger: will a Labour Leave-voting constituency forgo its traditional party loyalty for the sake of Brexit? It is a question which misreads the complexity and depth of people’s discontent.

On Tuesday, in the corner room of Grimsby Holiday Inn, the word “Brexit” was uttered once, in passing, and never repeated. Many faces of the town were in the room – sixth formers, community organisers, retirees, volunteers, workers – and nearly all felt let down. The economy, the council, government: very little up there worked for them.

Key points:

But there is hope, as well as a pride and energy in the town. Local initiatives, such as East Marsh United, want government support to flourish but are not waiting on it to make a start. “This is where we live, this is our home,” said the chair of East Marsh United, a community group trying to renovate housing in the area. “Pensioners shouldn’t have to suffer, young people shouldn’t have to suffer, and, when it comes down to it, us humans shouldn’t have to suffer. That’s it. Full stop. No argument.”

We’ll be back in Grimsby twice before the election. Please join us.

3 December, 6:30pm, Holiday Inn Express, book here.

10 December, 6:30pm, Grimsby Telegraph, book here.

Polly Curtis and David Taylor



It started with a show of hands. Who wants an independent Scotland? Almost every one of the dozen-or-so people gathered in a side room of the Crookston Hotel in Glasgow – or, if we’re going to be all political about it, in the constituency of Glasgow South West – raised a palm. Who wants to remain in the European Union? Likewise.

But, as the ThinkIn progressed, any lazy presumptions of consensus in Scotland were thoroughly dismantled.

Key points:

We’ll be returning to Glasgow twice more during the election campaign – to continue the conversation. It’d be great to see you there.

26 November, 6.30pm, Crookston Hotel, book here.

10 December, 6.30pm, The Lighthouse, book here.

Peter Hoskin