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Sandcastles, lettuce and a big train: where Ukip won and why

16 May 2013

Anyone who watched the latest episode of Mary Queen of the High Street will have been mildly amused to see the retail diva encounter the good burghers of Margate. Urbane, fabulous and witty, with a mission tinged an air liberal imperialism, as if ‘to explore strange new worlds’. One can almost imagine her government reports: ‘It’s commercial life, Prime Minister, but not as we know it.’ Suffice to say, much as some of the animosity was no doubt hammed up for the cameras, not every inhabitant of Planet Thanet welcomed Portas with open arms.

What project more symbolises the Cameroon ‘big society’ effete tofu-laden conservatism than Operation Portas? And how is the once-bustling holiday destination of the Isle of Thanet responding to the Prime Minister’s affections? By voting UKIP in droves.

Indeed, there could almost be an episode of the BBC’s Coast series looking at Nigel Farage’s new recruits in this month’s local elections. From Shoreham to Skegness, from Folkestone to Minehead, they do like the purples by the seaside.

It is easy to understand a certain innate conservatism in communities that have in many ways been ravaged by social and economic liberalisation. With more Brits having substituted their bucket-and-spade trains with Marbella-bound planes over the decades and many of the jobs at peak season being taken by migrants, it’s easy to see how Europe, both as a place and a people, looms large on the local mindset.

The coastal districts where UKIP were neck-and-neck with the Conservatives include Castle Point, the place which drew the highest numbers of ‘no’ votes in the 2011 AV referendum – a triumph for conservative scepticism over liberal enthusiasm. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into pure Conservatism with places like Folkestone and Shoreham having elected Liberal Democrat councils in past years, as well as Great Yarmouth, King’s Lynn, Thanet South, Felixstowe and Waveney all choosing Labour MPs, at least for a time, under Tony Blair. Boston Council was even controlled by ‘Bypass Independents’ from 2007 to 2011 (think roads not heart operations) and the Greens took a council seat in Hythe. These voters are used to being fed up and shopping around for an opportunity to vent their frustrations – the big difference is that they seem to have settled nationally on one party for this parliament.

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But Boston and Norfolk aren’t just about the seaside. They’re also about carrots, salads and sugar beet. Indeed, it’s possible to see a clear UKIP ‘Lettuce Belt’ in the Fens. It’s here where immigration is key; the arduous activity of picking vegetables requiring large amounts of manual labour at particular times of the year. Jesse Norman’s Hereford & South Herefordshire seat also has a high level of arable farming, and while the district saw no elections this year, UKIP topped the poll in the neighbouring Forest Of Dean, a former mining community, where local jobs are scarce and whose residents will hop across the county border for work. But not in the fields, it seems. Norman declared in a parliamentary debate last year that ‘farmers advertise scrupulously for local, English labour when attempting to fill such jobs, but often without success’. Or as one young man in Peterborough, offered a £7 an hour job picking vegetables, told the BBC in 2008: ‘No mate, I’d prefer to sign-on than do that. I don’t want to work in like no cornfield. I don’t want to work with a load of foreigners.’

As such, local farmers take advantage of the ‘Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme’, hiring largely Polish labour in 2004 and Romanian and Bulgarian since 2007. One of the great ironies of the lifting of restrictions on the latter’s employment next year will mean they can set their sights higher than a damp Fenland field and local farmers may have to look for migrant workers from outside the EU. Good luck with that migration cap, Theresa May.

It doesn’t take a statistical genius to work out the effects of this migration on the local population, but I’ll give you some anyway. The 2011 census has released the nationality of anyone in a given authority – and the key figure is not the volume of people from countries that have joined the EU since 2004, but how those numbers compare to the existing migrant population. As such, much as there is a large Polish community in Haringey, the area is diverse and fairly accustomed to such an influx.

A brief glance at the figures shows a stark pattern: of the five council areas that voted this May where more than 40 per cent of non-British or Irish nationals come from the new EU states, UKIP won two or more councillors in each. In Boston, where UKIP comfortably topped the poll, the figure is 71 per cent. In Fenland, whose local MP Steve Barclay told a parliamentary debate last year of pensioners’ complaints about urinating migrants outside their house, the figure was 57 per cent. His seat contains Wisbech, where UKIP won all three councillors, and a Facebook group highlighting immigration issues in a town of under 21,000 residents has 1,065 members.

Ukip table

Similar tensions are likely in Peterborough, which would be my One to Watch for next year’s elections – where a purple surge may serve in 2015 to hand the seat of arch-Eurosceptic Stewart Jackson to Labour, with UKIP themselves more likely to target Shailesh Vara’s Cambridgeshire North West constituency, having topped the poll in the Huntingdonshire half of the seat this May. They already have a candidate against Vara: local councillor Peter Reeve, who has just found himself re-elected in Ramsey with two thirds of the vote.

And finally, UKIP did well in Aylesbury, where the local Conservative MP hasn’t categorically said whether or not he will vote against the hated High Speed Rail, prompting the Stop HS2 campaign to erect a five metre banner asking ‘where are you David Lidington?’ The answer to that is probably ‘in the Foreign Office’ and much as he might not be keen to resign as Europe Minister to vote against the rail project, it seems hardly the perfect job to see off Farage’s troops. Perhaps he and Forest Of Dean MP and Immigration Minister, Mark Harper, can set up a support group for the embattled.

Mark Gettleson is an elections and polling analyst and columnist for The House magazine.

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Show comments
  • thanksdellingpole

    What happens, a with Haringay, when the Caucasian English population are supplanted by foreigners, how then do we get UKIP in?

  • John McClane

    ‘The coastal districts where UKIP were neck-and-neck with the Conservatives include Castle Point…’

    Castle Point is on the Thames, it has a good view of the Thames estuary and the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. But it is not coastal. Maybe they voted UKIP because they wanted to?

  • Wilhelm

    Max Crema ( completely brainwashed ) and the Left are always banging on about tolerance and acceptance etc etc, yet on his twitter page, the background is ‘I hate UKIP.’

    Why is the Left so full of hate ? If you look at the faces of the Edinburgh labour students, it’s the same twisted, sullen faces that bayed for blood during the French Revolution.

  • Smithersjones2013

    The Spectator’s standards are nosediving if they are putting out this sort of risible drivel. Its so condescendingly crass in its superficiality its impossible to know where to start but I will try.

    Now if it were in anyway a serious piece of analysis buggalugs might have pointed out that seaside towns attract a considerable numbers of retirees and of course UKIP is appealing to retirees (presumably because they remember a time when our Westminster politicians were not political pygmies). Not only that but much of the youth of such areas (who tend to be more liberal) are drawn to life in London so demographics in the Kent coastal towns given their general proximity to London yet being outside the normal commuter belt is likely to be older than other areas. It would therefore demographically be prime UKIP territory.

    He might also have pointed out that Kent with its ferry ports and Euro-tunnel is the gateway to Europe so it suffers the greatest concentration Euro traffic and immigration (legal and illegal) in the country. It also feels the effects of strikes in France (port workers for example) which will cause traffic problems around the Kent ports etc etc. Add to that it also suffers the brunt of foreign freight driver caused accidents on its major routes.

    Not only that but the whole Sussex (UKIP did not do too shabbily there either) and Kent coasts has the heritage of 2000 years of being the front line against European invaders from the Roman landings via the Battle of Hastings to the battle of Dunkirk. Churchill stood on the White Cliffs of Dover watching the battle of Britain. The Duke Of Wellington was Lord Warden of The Cinque Ports. There are former Military installations from Manston Airport in Thanet with its Spitfire museum to the castle at Dover to the Martello Towers south of Folkestone. Kent was the front line for much World War II. Its little wonder with such a heritage that there may be a subconscious resistance to all things European instilled in the people of Kent. It is prime Eurosceptic territory and surprise surprise given Cameron’s constant equivocation and triangulation it has become prime UKIP territory.

    To glibly dismiss it as being the result of everyone deserting our beaches to go to Marbella is a nonsense. As someone who was brought up in Thanet and has maintained his links there I can recall many Eurosceptic discussions but never ones which involved banging on about the Spaniards stealing all the Tourists.Not least because EU or no EU Kent along the with the rest of the country would be off to Benidorm and Kavos. Of course the other side of it is that being the gateway to Europe Kent actually benefits from the through traffic. The idea this is about tourism is totally implausible

    As for this piece of Westminster clone-speak.

    It is easy to understand a certain innate conservatism in communities
    that have in many ways been ravaged by social and economic

    In what way does Gettleson think the Kent coastal towns have suffered the ravages of social and economic liberalisation any worse than say Tottenham or Glasgow or Sunderland? If anything sleepy seaside towns have probably suffered less the ravages of social liberalisation (there weren’t riots in Birchington in the summer of 2011) and isn’t one of the tennets of Thatcherite conservatism economic liberalisation? I can only think Gettleson thought such a line sounded clever.

    Not only that but his selective references to Kent seaside towns (presumably so he could show off his cool trendy condescending urban liberal elitist ‘ ooh look how the plebs live’ credentials of having watched some purile Channel 4 reality show with its anonymous third rate Cameroon celeb) ignores how well UKIP did in Tunbridge Wells (which was its very first success in Kent back in 2009 and quite a hike from the seaside) where it was neck and neck with the Conservatives or for the want of a candidate in Dover North where UKIP could have turned the safe Tory seat of Dover into a three way marginal (as it was Labour won the popular vote),

    Clearly the level of polling analysis Mark Gettleson undertook to write this article is reading an article in the Sun Newspaper and looking for the purple bits on the BBC Election results map. Perhaps the ‘House’ magazine should get a new analyst. Perhaps I should apply

    • starfish

      If this is the level of analysis supporting lib/lab/con policy wonks one can see why they are failing to stem the kippers. I think they are trying to be too cerebral. It is a gut reaction to the Westminster bubble ignoring them. If things don’t changei predict calamity for Cameron eg Al

  • Wilhelm

    Max Crema, age 21 and the mob of
    Edinburgh Labour students, all 9 of them ( which are essentially
    communists ) must be reading Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, Isolate your
    victim, in this case Nigel Farage, hurl a torrent of abuse at
    him,”racist, n*zi, scum” there by intimidating people who might want
    to hear UKIP and cowling them into submission.

    The Left are always going on about the proletariat, yet their
    comrades in the Soviet Union and China murdered a 100 million of them.
    Can we expect an apology ?

  • The Red Bladder

    Might the number of people retiring to coastal areas also be a factor in the comparative success of the battalions of the damned in theses areas?

  • nationalexistance

    Going by Nigel’s reception in Edinburgh today I don’t think ukip will find much support in Scotland.Indeed,ukip’s popularity in England could boost the independence movement in Scotland.

    • AnotherDaveB

      UKIP have a candidate in the Aberdeen Donside by-election. So you’ll have an opportunity to test that.

    • Colonel Mustard

      A reception orchestrated by Max Crema. Representative of Edinburgh? Scotland?


      • telemachus

        You have been reading his blog

        “The post condemned customers who “openly and unapologetically abuse staff… The ones who make women cry for having the temerity to serve someone ahead of them. The ones who enjoy lording any bit of power over the people paid to serve them. The people who see anyone in a staff shirt as fair game for insults, threats and heckling.” The writer goes on to say that “any attempts at complaining about [sexual harassment] to management would at best be ignored, and at worst condemned.”

    • MichtyMe

      Much the same Con/Lab/Lib product being offered by a different brand. Metropolitan centric with knobs on. Want even more power exercised in London, who in Scotland will vote for that.

      • rubyduck

        If independence is what the scots want, how is a change from power being exercised in Brussels to power being exercised in London relevant ?

  • Mike Smithson

    It would have been helpful to base the table on the percentage of population as a whole in the areas mentioned rather than “non-UK nationals”.

    Unless you know the overall impact then the figures tell us little and can be misleading.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      I think this guy’s efforts here are meant to be misleading.

      Suggest the author of this blogpost go back and revisit matters, because this alleged analytic presentation is nothing but a worthless data swamp. Correlation is not causation, laddie.

  • Ian Walker

    Why not come to Folkestone and ask the locals? We won’t bite, I promise!

    It would normally be as blue as can be (it’s Michael Howard’s old stomping ground) but the Tory district council is undertaking a psychotic war against its own residents with the imposition of a panoply of expensive parking zones that are killing the town centre shops and making enemies of the residents.

    The previous Lib Dem council managed to a) close all the public toilets, b) scrap the popular clifftop air show and then c) suffer an internal split and subsequent loss of control. That won’t be forgotten any time soon.

    So when the opportunity for something different (and you can forget Labour round these parts) came along, it was gobbled up like chihuahuas on a pork chop.

    Your analysis, no doubt dreamed up on a trendy sofa in a glass-fronted Millbank office, is as naive as the same conclusion reached by the Westminster party hegemony. All politics is local. We voted UKIP because they weren’t the same as you lot. Your garbage about us being afraid of tourists going to Marbella is as incorrect as it is patronising.

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