Boundary changes have made the Dewsbury seat a tempting Tory target. But BARRY GIBSON finds the Labour candidate in bullish mood as election day looms.
SHAHID Malik is trying to turn weaknesses into strengths as he fights to keep the Dewsbury seat which he won for Labour in 2005.
Boundary changes since the last election have seen Labour-leaning Heckmondwike replaced by Conservative-inclined Kirkburton and Denby Dale.
But the Labour man is pushing hard for votes in these traditionally Tory areas.
“I decided 18 months ago to do some work in Kirkburton and Denby Dale so people there would know who Shahid Malik is and what he does,” he said.
“We’ve got some good results, helping save Denby Dale Nursery, protecting Shelley village green and making sure postal services stayed in Kirkburton.”
Mr Malik has also been working in Mirfield, the other mainly Conservative part of the constituency. He has worked with parents to block Kirklees Council’s plan to close Castle Hall School.
Mr Malik said: “People respect the fact that I was willing to stand up, not just against the Conservatives, but also against my own party.”
The Labour man hopes his work will pay off on polling day.
He said: “If the election was just based on my record, I would be ultra-confident. But it’s also about national issues. I think it’s too close to call.”
His Conservative opponent Simon Reevell also thinks Dewsbury is a straight fight between the Tories and Labour.
“It’s a two-horse race between Shahid Malik and myself,” he said. “The boundary changes have helped us and we’re hopeful we can do our bit for a Conservative victory.
“The sense I get on the doorsteps is that people want Gordon Brown out of Downing Street and Shahid Malik out of Dewsbury and they are prepared to trust us.”
Mr Reevell said voters were concerned about regeneration of Dewsbury town centre, education, the economy and immigration.
He said: “People aren’t questioning immigration in a racist way but they’re worried about the pressure it puts on school places and health services. They point out that we only have limited resources and there’s only so much we can provide as a country.”
Independent candidate Clr Khizar Iqbal believes Dewsbury voters are angry with mainstream politicians.
He said: “Former Labour voters are telling me they are still resentful about the MPs’ expenses scandal. Fraud has taken place, it’s criminal. People tell me that if they had done something like that at their work they would lose their jobs.”
The Dewsbury South councillor has been campaigning hard for nearly a year to cause an upset in the contest.
He said: “I think we’re getting votes from Labour and the Conservatives. People are going to come out on May 6 and show that they can’t be taken for granted.”
Another former Conservative – Clr Roger Roberts of the BNP – is hoping to build on his party’s strong showing in 2005.
He said: “I don’t think I’ll win but I don’t think I’ll be far away either because there will be a significant protest vote. I hope we can do better than our ‘wonderful’ MP and run the Conservatives close.”
The Heckmondwike councillor believes voters are warming to the BNP’s proposals.
“Our policies are simple,” he said. “We would save billions by pulling out of Europe and all the unnecessary wars we’re involved in. We would use that money for better pensions, genuine regeneration and the protection of frontline services.
“A lot of people are also concerned about immigration which is causing a shortage of housing.”
Andrew Hutchinson, of the Lib Dems, hopes his party will be boosted by the televised leaders’ debates.
“We were doing well even before the first debate, but the Clegg factor has pushed us forward,” he said. “There’s a lot of disillusionment with Labour and I hope I can finish in the top two.”
Mr Hutchinson said voters were concerned about Dewsbury Hospital, law and order and the regeneration of the town centre.
He added that his party’s economic policy was proving a hit on the doorsteps. Mr Hutchinson said: “We would raise the tax threshold to £10,000 which is popular with people on low incomes.”
Green candidate Adrian Cruden is “very optimistic” of doing well in Kirkburton.
He said: “Things are fluid in this election and people are looking for a change. They are quite open and receptive to us.
“We did fairly well in the European elections last year, we were almost level with the BNP and the Lib Dems in Dewsbury. I think we’ll do well this time.”
English Democrat candidate Michael Felse said crime was a big concern for voters.
“There are a lot of people living in fear of crime and violence,” he said. “They don’t feel safe in their own communities.”
Mr Felse added: “There’s a lot of people watching the X Factor-style debates. They’re getting interested, which is great. But it’s when they get into the polling booth – that’s the moment that counts.”