POTHOLES and dog dirt could decide who wins East Lancashire’s most volatile Parliamentary seat.

Both subjects are major issues in neighbourhoods according to Tory Jake Berry and Labour’s Will Straw.


They might seem unlikely tie-breakers, but the two candidates are neck and neck in a constituency which has seen dramatic swings over the years.

In 1992, a row between long-serving Tory MP David Trippier and a local farmer over the shooting of his family pet dog weeks before polling day contributed to his losing by just 120 votes to Labour’s Janet Anderson.

Mr Berry is confident his 2010 majority of 4,493 is enough to keep him at Westminster.

But Mr Tripper’s 1987 majority was 4,982.

Rossendale and Darwen is not just a key marginal but a real political weather vane seat.

The 1983 Conservative win was a comfortable 8,821 votes while in 1997’s Labour landslide Mrs Anderson racked up 10,949 vote cushion.

The seat is a mix of rural villages, homes for affluent Manchester commuters, Labour stronghold Rawtenstall, working class Tory Bacup, and historic Darwen where people vote LibDem in council polls but differently in general elections.

Not surprisingly Mr Berry and Mr Straw see the reason for the pothole and dog dirt problems differently.

The 36-year-old Tory lawyer blames council inefficiency. His 34-year-old Labour opponent, son of former Blackburn MP Jack, puts responsibility squarely on government grant cuts to local government.

Mr Berry said: “The economy is a big issue. People are beginning to see the recovery coming through in jobs, wage packets and businesses.”

He believes only sticking with the Conservative’s economic plan will enable much-needed town centre revivals and improved transport links to Manchester from the Rossendale Valley.

Mr Straw says his canvassing shows residents worse-off now than in 2010, even if they have had a small wage rise recently.

He said: “The future of the NHS is a big issue which only Labour has a costed plan for.

“People can see the effect of the cuts in Whitehall grants on local councils and their services. Cuts which are far bigger in the North than in the South.”

In a field containing eight candidates, both main parties face a challenge from rivals after their core voters.

UKIP’s candidate, 60-year-old Rawtenstall businessman Clive Balchin, is a former Tory who sat on Mr Berry’s original selection panel.

He puts himself forward as a pragmatic local alternative to his more politically-polished opponents.

Mr Balchin denies UKIP is a ‘one trick pony’, claiming its manifesto offers a wide range of policies financed by pulling out of the European Union, cutting overseas aid, and limiting immigration and immigrants’ benefits.

Simon Thomas, 47, from Crawshawbooth, stands under the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition banner calling for a £10 an hour minimum wage and the end of all privatisation in the NHS and education.

He promises to draw only his current bus driver’s wage if elected and demands the scrapping of university tuition fees.

This puts pressure on Liberal Democrat Afzal Anwar, a Nelson-born barrister.

He will be plugging his party leader Nick Clegg’s pitch that only LibDems in government can provide a ‘heart’ for the Conservatives or a ‘head’ to Labour to avoid being squeezed between the two.

The political mix is enlivened by Edenfield resident Kevin Scranage standing as an Independent and 52-year-old carer Shaun Hargreaves for the Northern Party.

He said: “People are disillusioned with professional politicians.

“They like our plan for a Northern Parliament with autonomy from Westminster.”

Green candidate Karen Pollard-Rylance, a 47-year-old college lecturer, wants an education system tailored to pupils needs where teachers have the freedom to teach.