From 2010-14, two coastal communities helped smaller parties breakthrough into Westminster: Brighton for the Greens and Clacton for UKIP.
I was an ardent Remainer, I am still a passionate European but I am deeply troubled. There is a lot of talk within the Liberal Democrat membership on shifting our policy position from ‘revoke’ to ‘rejoin’. If we do this, without having addressed issues of social and economic inequality – issues which led to the original result in 2016 – then we stand no chance at the next election.
For brevity, I’ll summarise both constituencies as seaside resort destinations with ornate late 19th century pier fronts and a boom period in British holidaymakers from the Victorian period.
Fortunes have been in decline for Clacton-on-Sea, especially since traditional coastal holidays fell out of favour in the 1960s.
Brighton largely escaped this fate due to the trendy cultural legacy of the Georgian period, its University and ease of access to London. London’s economic circumference keeps Brighton open for business because residents have a greater level of surplus expenditure.
In 2016, Brighton voted overwhelmingly to remain with 73.4%. Clacton was 70% in favour of Leave.
In 2019 both won awards.
Brighton was voted the best place in the country to live and work in research conducted by CV-Library.
In contrast, Clacton, specifically Jaywick, was named the most deprived area for the third time in a row since 2010 by the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government. The department reached its conclusion having examined income, employment, education, health and crime as well as housing services and living environment.
Several people in Jaywick are living in horrific circumstances, made extremely worse by landlords praying on a deprived community with little enforcement from local government. Lack of stable jobs or a steady income is a major contributing factor.
A Guardian report from 2011 found 62% of working age residents in Jaywick received benefits, compared to the 15% national average. Compare that with Brighton with an average unemployment rate of around 3% of the working age population.
At last year’s general election, residents of both areas gave very different responses when asked on the doorstep what they thought was the biggest priority:
Brighton Pavillion – Environment
Clacton – Immigration
Immigration isn’t the route of the problem for Jaywick or wider Clacton, nor is it the major problem for other leave voting constituencies.
As the 2011 UK Census sets out, a higher proportion of residents in Clacton-on-Sea are British-born than the national average. In the same year, the proportion of British-born residents living in Brighton fell below the national average.
I am a passionate environmentalist, but I can appreciate I am in a privileged position to care about that issue. I do know what it is like to come from a town which suffers from severe economic inequality and all the societal problems it breeds. Greenock, my hometown in 2001, aged ten, was named the UK’s heroin capital.
In 2014, when a Labour Party member, our ‘heartlands’ in Greenock voted in large numbers for Independence. I don’t believe it was the right answer then to the town’s problems, nor do I now. But since then, I have come to terms with what drove that apathy.
Tackling inequality should be the major focus of our next General Election campaign. After all, voter apathy towards the political process drove the 2016 result and it can’t be allowed to continue.
Let’s review UBI, Skills Wallets and other programmes designed to help people stay out of poverty, reskill and attain new jobs. Let’s rediscover our federalist pledge, because powers given to local councils are the only way to tackle slum landlords and local health problems.
In 2024 or whenever the next General Election rolls round, let’s again be the party of Beveridge and Keynes and put inequality in all its forms at the forefront of our message. Let’s think how our Liberal Democratic ethos can help people in places like Jaywick.
David McKenzie is former Chair of the Young Fabians Committee on Devolution and Local Government and a senior organiser on the Better Together campaign. He lives in South Derbyshire and is a founding member and interim Policy Officer of the Liberal Democrats for the Heart of England campaign. David Tweets @DavidXMcKenzie