Express & Star

Here's what voters had to say about the upcoming elections in one of the key political battlegrounds

The sun is shining, but the headwinds are strong. That's often the case in Dudley market place, perched on the top of a hill, with the castle as the backdrop.

Market trader Wendy Farmer

Back in the 1640s, it was the scene of two fiercely-fought battles in the English Civil war. And with all 72 seats in the borough up for grabs on May 2, the borough is likely to be the focus of one of the key political battlegrounds this year.

Dudley has been controlled by the Conservatives for 15 of the past 20 years, and last year's election saw Labour fail to make any inroads into the Tories' comfortable majority, despite enjoying a comfortable lead in the national polls.

Even so, with all 72 seats up for grabs, and Labour enjoying poll leads in excess of 20 per cent, Sir Keir Starmer must surely be thinking if he can't win it now, when can he win it?

Word is that Dudley is Labour's No. 1 target nationally – which probably explains Sir Keir launching his election campaign in the town. If he takes Dudley, and Labour's Richard Parker manages to out Andy Street as elected mayor for the West Midlands, Sir Keir will know he is on course for a sweeping victory at the General Election.

So what do the people of Dudley have to say? Quite a lot as it turns out.

This was the first time my attempts to gain public opinion actually drew a crowd of people queuing up to have their say.

The main issues seem to be the state of the town centre – almost everybody was unhappy about the lack of shops; the Midland Metro tram link, which still divides opinion; and the council's recent decision to charge £36 a year for green waste collections. But while none of the people we speak to say they will be backing the Conservatives, there doesn't seem to be much support for Labour either.

A number of people we speak to say they are considering turning their back on the party.

Among them was Janine Hancock, in her 60s, from Sedgley.

"Merry Hill should be closed," she says, emphatically. "I don't care how they do it, get rid of it. Bring back the factories. Put a 50 per cent tax on all imports from China."

When it is put to her that much of this would fall outside the remit of Dudley Council, she says that demonstrates the futility of local government.

"You can't separate the local from the national," she says. "If you're trying to do things just on a local level, you're wasting your time."

Turning to matters slightly more parochial, she expresses anger at the introduction of charges for collecting garden waste, and says not enough is done to promote the borough's waterways.

"We don't do enough with the canals," she says. "You get YouTubers making videos about the canals all the time, we need to do more to promote them."

A former Labour Party member, she is not sure how she will vote, or if she will vote at all. I don't have any voter ID, so I shall have to shell out for that, if I do vote," she says.

Sitting on a bench nearby is Patricia Weaver, 81.