THE GENERAL Election takes place on December 12 – veteran of the Westminster scene BILL JACOBS analyses the battle in each East Lancashire constituency today focusing on the Labour stronghold of Blackburn

LABOUR hopes Kate Hollern’s unexpected success in increasing her majority twice since taking over as MP from Jack Straw will protect her in this unpredictable election.

With a 20,368 vote cushion, its formidable Blackburn party machine is lending workers to neighbouring marginal seats.

While few doubt Mrs Hollern’s passion, she is rarely seen as a barrel of laughs.

So she recruited Blackburn comedian Tez Ilyas to lighten her introductory leaflet.

He said: “I endorsed Kate because I firmly believe that Labour’s transformative policy agenda will finally shift the burden from the most vulnerable to the people with the most.”

With a low, by East Lancashire standards, Brexit vote of 56.3 per cent in 2016, Mrs Hollern hopes the issue will have limited effect on December 12.

Aides hope that strong ‘Leave’ sentiment in areas such as Mill Hill and Ewood will not stop voters returning to Labour.

They are confident Jeremy Corbyn is a big attraction to young voters and South Asian heritage residents.

Mrs Hollern hopes her job as his Parliamentary aide will neutralise Mr Straw’s reservations about the Labour leader, often reflected among older voters.

The Conservatives believe their 36-year-old candidate Claire Gill’s career as an NHS nurse will neutralise the health service issue.

She plans to squeeze Brexit Party candidate Rick Moore’s vote.

Blackburn GP and former Greenpeace ship’s doctor Reza Hossain is standing for the Greens.

Independent candidate Rizwan Shah, who recently left Labour, may muddy the political waters while Liberal Democrat Beth Waller-Slack’s ambition will be to keep her £500 deposit with the party’s policy of reversing Brexit hoovering up ‘Remainers’.

Mrs Hollern said: “Big issues are local government funding being slashed in nine years of Conservative-led misery affecting parks, SureStart, care for the elderly, street cleaning, the police and NHS.

“Brexit is important but Labour offers a clear policy of a new deal and a choice, with proper information, in a second referendum. Jeremy Corbyn does plain honest politics and people are responding to that. His poll ratings will improve.”

Mrs Gill said: “A Conservative vote is the only way to get Brexit done so we can move on to other things. I want to see more investment in the NHS and Royal Blackburn Hospital.

“Action on social cohesion is very important to me. A real bugbear is that Blackburn’s nightlife is dead and needs reviving.”

Dr Hossain said: “Some things are even bigger than Brexit. Climate change can only get worse if we don’t start changing the way we do things, including here in Blackburn. I am a strong supporter of improved NHS funding, but that’s not enough. Alongside healing people we have to heal the planet too and practise healthier living styles.”

Mr Shah, a 47-year-old immigration adviser, said: “I want to be a voice for Blackburn. The two main parties have different agendas and forget about the town. I don’t have a settled view on Brexit. I just want to help solve the current chaos.”

Mr Moore said: “Blackburn needs a strong Brexit voice in Parliament to hold Boris Johnson to his promises. Mrs Hollern does not want to leave.”

“Other issues are high levels of crime and poverty and bringing back life to the town centre.”

Mrs Waller-Slack said: “We want to invest in the NHS and social care. We would increase spending on youth services and tackling crime. All are crucial to Blackburn.”

It would take a political earthquake to prevent Mrs Hollern’s re-election.

As one Labour strategist put it: “If we have difficulties in Blackburn, it will be a disaster elsewhere.”

CANDIDATES: Claire Gill, Conservative and Unionist; Kate Hollern, Labour; Reza Hossain, Green; Rick Moore, Brexit; Rizwan Shah, Independent; Beth Waller-Slack, Liberal Democrat.

2017 RESULT: Kate Hollern Labour 33,148; Bob Eastwood Conservative 12,780; Duncan Miller Independent 878; Irfan Ahmed Liberal Democrat 709. Majority 20,368. Turnout 67.2 per cent.