ON MAY 8 something will be different in Blackburn, Jack Straw will no longer be its MP after 36 years in the job.

Tory candidate Bob Eastwood is campaigning on a ‘for change’ platform.

He is working harder than any Conservative candidate for decades to achieve an even bigger difference: the first non-Labour MP for Blackburn since it was recreated as a single constituency in 1955.


It’s a big ask but Mr Eastwood, former Eastern divisional police commander, is putting in a big effort, and playing up his local connections.

So is former borough council leader Kate Hollern for Labour.

She too has an impressive local track record, not to mention a fund of political passion that sometimes gets the better of her.

Having led the council since 2011 has disadvantages – her opponents try to pin every mistake by and complaint about the borough on her personally.

She is keen to stress the improvements of recent years, with the £33 million Cathedral Quarter rising in the town centre and the £40 million Pennine Reach public transport scheme under way.

She highlights massive cuts in Whitehall grant to the borough under the coalition, high levels of deprivation across the population, and concerns about the future of the NHS as reason why Blackburn must stay Labour.

The town has an unusual demographic as well as a proud industrial history with one of the youngest populations and the largest South Asian community in the UK.

Labour campaign chiefs admit that Mr Eastwood has proved ‘harder working’ than previous candidates.

They concede he is making inroads into Labour’s traditional Asian vote though they wonder if he is losing votes elsewhere to Ukip.

At the Lancashire Telegraph hustings immigration, Europe and the town’s night-time economy provoked controversy.

Ukip candidate, 21-year-old University of Chester student Dayle Taylor, said: “Immigration is proving a big issue in places like Shadsworth and Higher Croft where we are getting a good response.

“Uncontrolled immigration from the EU has a big impact on our well-established South-Asian community in Blackburn.”

Former national Age Concern director Gordon Lishman, aged 68, confesses to a tough task representing the Liberal Democrats.

He said: “It is an uphill struggle in view of the two-party tradition in Blackburn.

“When I talk to people on the doorstep about what the coalition has achieved, they understand what we have done.

“I think we have shown that you can have a stable coalition government that works.”

Mr Eastwood is happy his bid is going places that previous Tory campaigns failed to reach. He said: “The lack of night-time economy is proving important with voters as is jobs.

“So are things like filthy streets and the council failure to look after the quality of life in Blackburn. I think our campaign has left many traditional Labour voters in the Asian community with a dilemma over whether they should vote Tory this time round.”

For an election where so much will change, Blackburn’s campaign has been a curiously low-key, almost private affair. The Labour and Tory big hitters are flocking to the neighbouring marginals of Rossendale and Darwen, Burnley and Pendle.

Labour election agent Phil Riley is unconcerned: “I am not surprised. Kate winning Blackburn will not secure a Labour government, but Will Straw, Julie Cooper and Azhar Ali winning will.

“In any case we’ve got our own big-hitter in Jack Straw who will be out on a soap box ‘shoutabout’ with Kate in the town centre.”

Mrs Hollern, 58, said: “The big issues I’m finding are the future of the NHS and the cost of living. People are very worried about getting GP appointments and the state of accident and emergency.

“With the Cathedral Quarter development and the success of The Mall, the day-time economy in Blackburn is booming and the council has plans to revive the night-time economy.”

She is unlikely to match Mr Straw’s 2010 majority of 9,856 but must hope to exceed his narrowest victory, just 3,055, at his party’s 1983 lowest point under Margaret Thatcher’s premiership after the Falklands War.

Anything less would be a disaster for Labour and a sign that politics in Blackburn might really be changing long-term.