Bench Across Britain: What matters most to voters? From Cornwall to Edinburgh, one word keeps coming up

The Adventure Bike Rider Festival in Warwickshire is Glastonbury on Wheels. Fields on the beautiful Ragley Hall estate are full of tents and motorcycles, where the sound of rumbling exhausts mix with pumping music from tribute rock bands on the main stage.

We've come here on our last stop of Bench Across Britain, where we've been testing the mood of the nation ahead of the general election by sitting people on a green commons seat and asking them to share their thoughts.

This is our last stop, and what we find is an electorate that is still uncertain, still hard to read, as polling day is almost upon us.

We park our parliamentary bench amid gleaming chrome BSA bikes where retired IT professional Richard Bellis sits down with his friend, former firefighter, Darren Higginson.

What unfolds is a conversation that will make pollsters shudder.

Licking on his ice cream Darren says: "I want to see a change. I think after 14 years of conservatism we all feel the same way. Life will not get any better for the common people, so we need a change in direction."

"I disagree," says Richard. "I'm not sure it's change. I don't think the Conservatives are conservative anymore. Taxes are going up, whoever's in power. I'm very tempted to spoil my ballot, which I've never done. I've always voted Conservative."

Despite saying this with absolute conviction, later in the conversation Richard admits he has already voted, by post, because he is going to Spain.

"If I'm actually honest," he says, "I have already voted by postal vote, and whilst I said I was going to spoil my paper, I couldn't bring myself to actually spoil it."

Richard voted Conservative. "Maybe I'm a shy Tory," he says.

"I think most Tories should be shy," interjects firefighter Darren, "Are you ashamed of the Tories?"

Richard responds: "I'm actually embarrassed about some of the things that our prime ministers have done in the last few years. Boris [Johnson] and his parties. Boris and his buffoonery."

It then turns out that would-be Labour voter Darren is also going to Spain, and he hasn't bothered to do his postal vote.

The Nigel party

Shy Tories have often been a phenomenon in elections, but have they been particularly shy or even embarrassed in this election? Could that skew the polls? Certainly, as we've taken our bench around the county - plenty of people have said they're not sure which way they will go - but sounded like they lean towards Tory policies.

Set against that we've met plenty of Conservatives and some Labour voters ready to try Reform UK - a party that is more often referred to as "Nigel Farage" rather than its name.

When it comes to the people on our bench, Reform got more mentions than the Liberal Democrats, and it was often muttered by people who didn't want to sit on our bench.

Generally, there seems to be many saying they are voting against parties - rather than being proud to vote for a party.

Biker Steve Wilkinson says: "I think I'm going to vote for the Conservatives. And I think it's a tactical vote as much as anything because I'm concerned about a massive Labour majority and the implications that might have."

That's a key Tory message cutting through to a voter.

'Playground argument'

But Accountant Sherrie Woolf says she is "tactically" voting Labour "just not to be Tory".

She says her politics are probably more Liberal but thinks her vote is better placed with Labour. She adds: "You can't trust any of it. It just feels that there's a lack of integrity and even when you're watching the debates, it's like a playground argument, and I struggle to take it seriously."

That is another common theme - bafflement. Tom Colman, a general manager, riding around the estate testing a sleek Ducati motorcycle, says no party is appealing to him, "none of them whatsoever".

Pushed, he says he'll vote Lib Dem. "They are doing a pretty good job in my local authority, but there's very little to choose between them."

Katja Sohr, an enterprise architect from Bristol, has some advice for everybody. "What matters is that people actually read the manifestos," she says, "don't just read the headlines."

Then she admits she hasn't read the manifestos herself. "A bit hypocritical isn't it," she laughs. Katja has already postal voted for the Green Party.

She says: "I think our environment is important to us. And whilst I don't think the Greens should be governing, I think it puts a message down."

Honesty wanted

In the last five weeks, our bench has travelled over 1,800 miles, and I'm proud to say we haven't visited a single high street or shopping centre.

Instead, we've mostly gone to places of leisure and escapism; beaches, hills, rivers and festivals - rudely interrupting people's downtime with questions about politics.

We've spoken to circus performers, surfers, cheese-rolling spectators, longboaters, hikers, wild swimmers, and many more and, like the bikers, many are disillusioned and frustrated with the lack of clarity and ideas from the political parties.

But then voters don't necessarily have the answers either. Probably the most common theme on our bench has been the cost of living crisis, but people don't agree on whether to lower taxes, or invest more in public services.

What they do want is honesty. Many believe Labour is obfuscating over tax, and the Tories have lost any moral and fiscal high ground through a mix of Partygate, PPE contracts and Trussonomics.

The recent election betting scandal is the cherry on top.

Asked what matters in the next government, a recurring single word has been said on our bench from Cornwall to Scotland; said by the first and last person to sit on it - "integrity".