One of the tightest political battles on election day will take place in North Cornwall, where the predicted vote share is very slim between Scott Mann, who has been the constituency’s Conservative MP since 2015, and Liberal Democrat candidate Ben Maguire who, if you believe the polls, could steal the seat.

It’s always been a two-way thing between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in the sprawling constituency, which takes in fishing ports like Padstow, seaside resorts such as Bude and towns such as Launceston and Bodmin which form the backbone of Cornwall. Before Mr Mann, North Cornwall was Lib Dem all the way back to 1992.

So, do the other candidates (Labour’s Robyn Harris, Reform’s Rowland O’Connor, Heritage Party’s Sarah Farrell and the Greens’ Lance Symonds) stand a chance? There appears to be growing support for Reform when I visited the constituency this week. In fact, the biggest political banner I’ve seen on my travels around Cornwall is one in support of Mr O’Connor on the A389 between Wadebridge and Bodmin.

I went to Padstow first. All artisan gins, celebrity chefs and second homes, surely it’s a lobster velouté of Toryness? Well, not one person I spoke to admitted they would vote Conservative this time. You’re not exactly hit in the face by candidates’ billboards either. For a place that has been a Tory stronghold in recent years, there are surprisingly few Scott Mann posters and the most visible one at the entrance to the town had ‘Out’ scrawled across it.

The biggest problem in Padstow is actually finding a local to talk to – even this early in summer, the town is full of tourists. When you nab a resident, they more than likely work for a tourism / restaurant / Cornish food and drink business and are reticent to get political.

Steve, who has lived in Padstow for 32 years, said he can’t vote Lib Dem after they got into bed with the Conservatives for the coalition government of 2010.

“Everything’s broken in this country. I’ll vote Labour, who else would I vote for? Reform? No chance. I couldn’t vote Conservative – he’s useless, that Scott Mann. I’ve seen him once in Padstow – that was about four or five years ago. Probably a really nice guy, but politics? I don’t think so. I don’t know who the Labour candidate is – I haven’t seen anybody, no candidates from any party.”

As one young woman, on holiday in the area, proudly told me “Labour all the way”, we popped into the Institute craft market alongside Rick Stein’s famed restaurant. The general distaste with politics is clear. Tamara Cox told me: “I’m not voting Conservative or Labour. The Conservatives have done nothing in the last 14 years and I think Labour would bankrupt the country because they did it before.”

She and others decried the state of services including Padstow’s GP surgery where they said it takes three to four weeks to get an appointment and you’re more likely to be seen by a paramedic than a GP. “I had a heart attack in January and went to the surgery afterwards and they asked what was wrong with me,” she told me incredulously. “They hadn’t looked at my notes or anything.”

Padstow fishermen nail their political colours to the mast
Padstow fishermen nail their political colours to the mast (Lee Trewhela/LDRS)

Tamara was quick to point towards the fishing boats in the harbour opposite. “All the fishermen have gone Liberal Democrat.” What?! The fishing industry which famously supported Brexit has turned its back on the Conservatives?

The colours have literally been nailed to the mast – taking pride of place on the dock was a fishing boat bearing a large Lib Dem flag with a ‘Vote Ben Maguire’ sticker on the front deck.

Padstow fisherman Martin Murt said of the Lib Dem candidate: “He came down and saw us the other day. We’ve had someone who hasn’t listened to us for quite a few years and promised a lot. It’s not just Scott Mann. It’s the Conservative government with Brexit – they promised they’d take back the 12-mile limit, then said ‘well, when we went to Europe to negotiate, they wanted to keep it’. Obviously they wanted to keep it – it’s the best fishing ground in Europe.”

“Why promise in the first place? It affects smaller boat owners like us even though we’re inshore as it pushes some of the bigger ones into us. With them hammering the six to 12-mile it stops stuff coming to the shore and it doesn’t get to us.”

The six-mile limit is as close as EU boats can fish to Cornish shores but they can still operate between the six and 12-mile limit even though it is within Britain’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

“IFCA (Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority) manage us, which is fine but they never board a French vessel because it’s not worth the hassle and politics. We can’t catch bass – we have a closed season for bass – and they’re in on the bass grounds in the south of England and there are thousands of tonnes there. They’re there for one reason and then they’re going back to France,” added Mr Murt.

“The trouble is fishermen got promised everything on Brexit and it got worse, not better, because we lost the export market – the spider crab market has just disappeared and now we haven’t got any fishing grounds, so it’s a simple choice for fishermen now.”

Padstow fisherman Martin Murt believes Cornwall's fishermen were lied to about Brexit
Padstow fisherman Martin Murt believes Cornwall's fishermen were lied to about Brexit (Lee Trewhela/LDRS)

Further along the quay, his cousin Tom Murt said: “Generally, the feeling is the Tories have got to go. The Lib Dem chap visited us the other day and as one of the other fishermen told him, ‘you can’t do any worse than the Tories’, which seems to be the view really. Ben Maguire wants to look after the inshore fleet, which we definitely need. The Conservatives lied to the fishing industry when it came to Brexit.

“The feeling is that fishermen are not wanted by this government, especially smaller boats – 300 bigger boats are a lot easier to control than 3,000 small boats which are harder to keep track of. The amount of paperwork that goes with having a 20ft boat now … we are fishermen for a reason, we don’t like paperwork. It feels like I should have a secretary sometimes.”

Will Claxton runs Padstow Boatyard – he’s not surprised that the fishermen’s political allegiances have changed. “The whole industry was completely shafted by the Conservatives. Fishermen were used to get Brexit over the line. Virtually every fishing boat in the country is for sale – the industry is on its knees as is the supply chain as it’s all related.

“The pollack ban has added to it – that’s really impacted the fishermen a lot. The smaller guys working inshore are on their knees. As a boatyard, we’re actively looking to other industries now.”

Mr Claxton added: “None of the big parties are talking about fishing – they’ve all gone very quiet. After all they were promised before Brexit, I can understand every fisherman saying ‘**** that, how dare they’ about the Tories.”

He says as a veteran who served with 29 Commando in Plymouth, he’s voting for Reform candidate Rowland O’Connor. “I believe in what they say, but the only worry is Nigel Farage, who’s a bloody idiot. I’ve got very little trust in any of them at the moment.”

Bodmin is the no-nonsense chalk to Padstow’s crab-infused cheese. How is the town going to vote? Well, the first two ladies I met, who were deep in conversation outside the town’s museum, had very different views. “I’m going to vote Conservative as I don’t want to vote Labour. I was going to vote Reform but I read some stuff which put me off. Scott Mann is a lovely chap.” She is the only person, in two constituencies I’ve visited, who told me she’d go blue.

Her friend is going Lib Dem and believes from the number of posters around the town – and it’s noticeably orange – that will be the way it goes. She decried the state of the high street, and problems with vandalism and anti-social behaviour associated with young people: “I don’t think Scott Mann has done much for this area.”

Originally from Germany, Werner Schmidt has lived in this country for 23 years and can only vote in local elections but not the General Election. He said a close family member was voting Reform, but in an ideal world he’d vote for the Green Party. Mr Schmidt said living in Pelynt, a village between Bodmin and Looe, meant he’d like to see public transport improved in Cornwall as the buses are too infrequent and unreliable.

Hollie Beere, 21, who works in Bodmin
Hollie Beere, 21, who works in Bodmin (Lee Trewhela/LDRS)

Hollie Beere, 21, who works in Bodmin, said she was voting Lib Dem “because I’m not voting for Rishi...I think younger people have a better chance if they vote for Lib Dem or Labour. I live in Looe and everyone in Looe has the Lib Dem signs out”.

I spoke to an old boy as he left one of the town’s pubs. “I’ve been a socialist all my life and I will die a socialist. The sooner we kick these Tory[s] out, the better … but I’m not particularly political,” he jokingly added. “Bodmin has gone downhill drastically in the last 14 years of the Tories. Look at the businesses, or the lack of businesses, and the boarded-up places. The lack of cohesion is so noticeable,” said the man, who didn’t want to be named.

I bumped into solicitor Chris Nicholls outside his office on Fore Street. Chris, who also happens to be the first person to compose a musical version of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milkwood, told me: “I wouldn’t vote Conservative … the icing on the cake is the latest gambling scandal going on. I would never vote Labour ever because they don’t know how to manage the finances. I would have voted for Reform but I won’t because Nigel Farage is psychotic – he’s a dangerous person and supports Trump in America. I’ve just seen who the Green candidate is locally, he’s about 12 years old, so I’m not voting for him. I’m going to see if there’s a Liberal Democrat candidate worth voting for.

“I would always vote Conservative but they need a kick up the backside. Things are moving in a positive direction economically – why Rishi Sunak called the election now I don’t know. I think he was just fed up. When you’re so rich I don’t think you think the way normal people think.”

I rounded off my trip at the wonderful Old Library on Lower Bore Street in the offices of IntoBodmin, a community and arts organisation which is making a huge difference to communities in the town through cultural activities. As part of their wellbeing work, the group meets people who are truly struggling to eat.

Marketing lead Lisa Townsend said: “In terms of the projects we would like and the change we would like to make in Bodmin, I think there are other avenues that we would like to be funded that would enable us to make more impact and potentially they might come about with a different government.”

Fin Irwin, founder and co-director, added: “I think with a different government and a different focus on creativity and its value, it will do more to support our whole mantra that culture is the starting point of growth, whether economic or social.”

If you live in North Cornwall which way are you going to be voting? It’s certainly going to be interesting on July 4.