‘Dirty rotten scoundrel’: Blackpool voters dismayed by Tory MP Scott Benton

<span>Postal worker Ian Graham says he has not seen levelling up come to Blackpool South.</span><span>Photograph: Joel Goodman/The Guardian</span>
Postal worker Ian Graham says he has not seen levelling up come to Blackpool South.Photograph: Joel Goodman/The Guardian

Behind the facade of the bright lights on the Blackpool seafront is a town yearning for regeneration. The magistrates court, crumbling from Raac, no longer hears cases. Visitors to the South Shore area behind the famous pleasure beach attraction expecting hustle and bustle are instead greeted with a sombre mood created by disillusionment and a lack of trust.

“Scott Benton is a dirty rotten scoundrel,” says Dale Dodwell, the manager of the tattoo parlour Monsters Ink. “He keeps putting up pictures of him eating loads of food. What about the homeless? All good for you because you have loads of money.”

Dodwell’s words symbolise the feeling that many local people have given up on politics. On 2 May, a byelection will take place to replace Benton, who on Monday evening resigned as the Conservative MP for Blackpool South.

It presents another political headache for Rishi Sunak before an election that polls suggest will be won by Labour.

Benton was caught last year by undercover reporters for the Times posing on behalf of a fake investment fund saying he would lobby ministers on behalf of the gambling industry and leak a confidential policy document for up to £4,000 a month. He was found to be in breach of MPs’ standards and he was facing a local vote on whether to remove him after his ban from the House of Commons.

Blackpool South was a Labour seat from 1997 until 2019 but Benton won the seat with a 3,690 majority. Before the Labour MP Gordon Marsden won in 1997 the seat, in one of the most deprived areas in England, had been under Tory control for all of its existence.

Ian Graham, a postal worker born in Blackpool, said politicians such as Benton promote levelling up to be voted in, but Graham says he has not seen anything come to fruition.

He said: “He’s the tip of the iceberg and has been caught with his hands in the jar. A lot of politicians do it and don’t get caught.

“I’ve seen him in person around this way, speaking to people, showing his face to do PR stunts. I’m not a political person, to be honest. I don’t think voting for the two main political parties is the way to go. One’s a Tory and the other is a lighter shade of Tory.

“You’re better off with the Green party or another upcoming party.”

Julie Kirkham, a retired special educational needs teacher, said the next MP had to think about renovation and that the town had “enough car parks”.

“We used to have a block of holiday flats on the South Shore around the back of the Pleasure Beach in the 80s, and when people came for their two-week holiday it wasn’t just stags and hens,” she said. “It just needs somebody who cares and can put a bit of life and soul back into the place.”

Kirkham added as a lifelong Conservative voter she was undecided on who to vote for but did note that the Labour candidate, Chris Webb, was Blackpool-born and she was expecting “lots of flyers through her door”.

Zoe Sarah Neil, a colleague of Dodwell, said it was especially important for women to vote because of her affinity “with the suffragettes”, but she doesn’t think anything will change.

“Tattooists were the first to close and the last to reopen [during Covid],” she said. “It was not good for people who were self-employed.”

Neil, who is catching up on lost earnings, added: “You’re only two pay-cheques away from being homeless.

“I went self-employed in September [2019], before March [2020]. I was on the breadline; I phoned up and was told: ‘I’m sorry you’re one of the people who have slipped through the cracks we can’t help you.’ Now taxes have gone up and food prices have gone up, it’s a struggle.”