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This day’s portion

Matthew Parris only said what most British people think about places like Clacton

Matthew Parris wrote an article about Clacton (£) which drew some horrified reactions, including this deeply confused response from Tim Stanley in The Telegraph.

Let’s state the obvious first. It takes a lot of chutzpah to argue the Tories stand for helping places like Clacton, but that’s what Stanley does:

And I cannot see that he is a Tory if he does not feel a responsibility to serve them. After all, the essence of Toryism is to seek to assist all the people regardless of background. It is the Left traditionally that separates people by sectional interest – the desire to become “the masters now”.

The “essence of Toryism” since the mid 70s has been to cast places like Clacton (or Ipswich, or Haverhill, or Lowestoft, or Yarmouth) adrift as they struggle to shift to a service economy and adapt to British holidaying habits, or draw on a pool of middle class assets. If you are a Conservative Parris’s stance is entirely logical: if your Clactons fail to adapt then they deserve the UKIP.

Of course, this analysis is fundamentally wrong: it’s simply not possible to replace industries like tourism, fishing and manufacturing with insurance or even other low paid jobs in the service sector. Not everyone can make money from their property assets. Clacton is a consequence of Conservative and Labour policies of the last 40 years, not some ingrained fecklessnes or stupidity.

OK, so that’s the obvious bit, and it’d be very easy to demonise Parris. But let’s be honest: we hear these types of opinions every day; from Tories, from people who aren’t interested in politics and from Labour supporters. I’ve even experienced it when a local Labour party member patronised me over my new build house; as if I could have chosen a nice Victorian 4 bed next to Christchurch Park instead.

We are all complicit in Clacton’s demise. If you’ve ever made a tidy profit on selling your house or moved to a part of town with a “good” school, you’re part of a problem that the Labour party failed miserably to tackle – it may have assuaged the symptoms with less draconian rules on sickness benefits and higher tax credits, but it accepted the notion that Clacton’s problems were down to its inability to adapt, rather than a set of economic circumstances.

Why does Clacton vote Tory and UKIP?

So why does Clacton vote for the very parties that do it the most harm? If the UKIP did get into government and you’re one of the Clacton sick Matthew Parris depicts, you’re going to end up paying for every GP visit. You’ll also be paying tax at exactly the same rate as a millionaire banker living in Kensington.

If you were using traditional terms, you’d describe Clacton as solidly working class, and Labour should be the party of the working class.

The fact that Labour doesn’t offer Clacton much more than the Tories partly explains its lack of success in the poorer, eastern towns; and because the surrounding areas are staunchly Tory, it’s naturally harder for Labour to make inroads. The Tories face the same problem in parts of the north of England and Scotland.

But before the UKIP became popular we were worried the BNP would gain council seats in places like Clacton and Lowestoft, and the BNP is economically far to the left of Labour. So we do need to ask – what do the UKIP and the BNP have in common?

And we know one of the answers to that question. They’re racist.

So again, Matthew Parris could, in a way, be right: the views of the Clacton electorate are simply a function of their lack of education, and their inability to change over the years.

But that’s not the whole truth. The BNP, the UKIP and certain Tory MPs are quite happy to play the outsider card; the maverick who’s willing to say what the metropolitan elite won’t; to call a spade a spade; to shake things up. And because no–one wants to be the victim of their countrymen’s meanness, and no–one else is offering you anything, it’s natural enough to blame someone else for the state of things – that someone else being immigrants.

Not leaving Clacton to the UKIP

Parris is exasperated, and suggests the Tories leave places like Clacton to the UKIP. Tactically, that’s good for Labour; it means they’ll win more seats at the general election.

Tim Stanley is right to express horror at the notion of giving up on our Clactons, but the one nation Toryism ship set sail 40 years ago, and disappeared over the horizon when the Tories failed to make Ken Clarke their leader. Ian Duncan Smith ain’t going to help.

No. It’s up to Labour and the Tories to offer something that actually improves people’s lives, rather than punishment for being poor or a tax credit band aid. Building millions of houses to make property assets less valuable, reinstating universal benefits (such as a basic income) and actually putting something that creates jobs in the town would be a good start, but it’ll never happen. And bollocks, I seem to have become a Green.