THE GENERAL Election is just around the corner on December 12, over the next few days political writer and veteran of the Westminster scene BILL JACOBS analyses the battle in each East Lancashire constituency starting today with Burnley

DIVIDED loyalties will be theme of the General Election in strongly pro-Brexit Burnley.

In the 2016 referendum the borough, once a Labour fortress. voted 66.6 per cent to leave European Union.

Which explains why the party’s candidate Julie Cooper, who won the seat back from the Liberal Democrats in 2015, made her opposition to a second vote explicit in January.

Unfortunately for her Labour’s latest policy is to negotiate a new deal and put it to a ‘People’s Vote’.

The 76-year-old Lib Dem she defeated, Gordon Birtwistle (like her a former borough council leader) brushes aside his party’s commitment to stopping Brexit it in its tracks.

He said: “I don’t think we’ll win a majority. I support a referendum on whatever deal we end up with.”

Cllr Birtwistle faces a challenge from former colleague Cllr Charlie Briggs, who split from the Lib Dems in 2017 to form the Burnley and Padiham Independent Party.

The latter, now leader of the loose coalition which took power on the council from Labour in May, is campaigning to implement the local Brexit vote.

Not as firmly ‘Remain’ as her party, Green candidate and clinical psychologist Laura Fisk is fighting her second Burnley election.

Which leaves Conservative Anthony Higginbotham and The Brexit Party’s Stewart Scott fighting over the hardline Leave vote.

Karen Helsby-Entwistle, a campaigner for disabled and autistic children, is standing as an independent.

Mr Birtwistle is campaigning mainly on his own achievements. He said: “I am standing because all the work I did for the hospital and to bring jobs into the town stopped in 2015. People know who I am and what I did for the town.”

Cllr Briggs said: “As council leader I knocked on the doors, Gordon opened them and I negotiated the deals. I want to see Burnley’s overwhelming desire to leave the EU honoured.”

Mrs Cooper said: “My priorities are the NHS, which needs investment and more staff and the absolute disgrace that since 2010 the number of children in Burnley and Padiham growing up in poverty has risen from a third to half.

“I can support a confirmatory referendum on a Labour-negotiated deal. I would campaign for Leave but my preference would be to do without a second vote and get on with it.”

Dr Fisk said: “I want people to vote Green to show they care about climate change and issues like the NHS and reversing the cuts to government services. On Brexit, if elected I would speak to constituents before voting on any deal.”

Mr Scott, a company director from Baxenden, said: “Labour voters who want to leave the EU should vote for me to ensure Brexit happens. Voting Conservative might let Mrs Cooper in.”

Haslingden-born Mr Higginbotham, as 29-year-old banker, hopes to build on a strong Conservative showing in 2017 which saw Mr Birtwistle pushed into third.

He said: “The only way to make Brexit happen is swiftly is to vote Conservative. A vote for the Brexit Party might let Julie Cooper sneak back in.

“I want to see Burnley become the North-West leader in technology and digital education.”

Mrs Helsby-Entwistle said: “It’s clear that most people are struggling with the honesty of our politicians, realising we have an outdated political system. I truly believe there is a better way for us all.”

Although Mrs Cooper saw her 2015 majority almost double two years ago she must feel that her once safe Labour seat is again on shifting sands and that it will take more than just the Jeremy Corbyn effect to hold it.

CANDIDATES: Gordon Birtwistle, Liberal Democrat; Charlie Briggs, Burnley and Padiham Independent Party; Julie Cooper, Labour; Laura Fisk, Green; Karen Helsby-Entwistle, Independent; Antony Higginbotham, Conservative; Stewart Scott, Brexit. 2017 RESULT:

Labour Julie Cooper 18,832; Conservative Paul White 12,479; Liberal Democrat Gordon Birtwistle 6,046; UKIP Tom Commis 2,472; Green Laura Fisk 461; Majority 6,353; Turnout 62.2 per cent.