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

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. 

‘Tackling inequality should be the major focus of our next General Election campaign.’

David McKenzie

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.

3 Comments »

  1. Excellent article.
    A quick Google found that Clacton is 1hr 26mins from London while Brighton is 1hr 19mins. But Clacton’s arrival is into the City, so actually better for overall journey time. Geography does not explain the difference, politics does. And that’s down to the Tory local council and national gvt for the past 10 years.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well having spent my formative years in Thanet and a lot of the rest of it in East Kent generally I can tell you that a big part of the issue is due to having access to well paid permanent employment. The lack of decent work in these areas is soul destroying. Each time I was out of work it would take at least 6 months to find employment that paid enough to pay just the bills. On top of this metropolitan councils ‘dump’ their homeless into poor accommodation with no ongoing support. The local economy struggles along providing endless bottom end retail and leisure jobs with little or no prospect of advancement.
    Local ex mining communities are only now just recovering from the shock of closures with no re-investment afterwards. East Kent feels like a bleak place, it’s beacons of hope; Pfizer and other businesses have left and the local authorities argue endlessly about what to do with a potentially major strategic airfreight hub, seemingly more worried about making the wrong choice than making no choice.
    I could write for hours about what it’s like to live in these places. Instead I just want to briefly explain what I feel the people of these areas need.
    They need leadership, they need hope. They need empowerment, they need investment in education at all levels. They need to feel like their lives are going to, at some stage, begin to get better than the daily disappointments. They need someone to take a chance on them, they need to feel that life is worthwhile and not just some grind that never ends. They need jobs that are permanent and pay a decent wage and they need the skills for those jobs. This is no short term quick fix sudden investment that’s needed. It’s long term, strategic and joined up. The very things that our tribal politics and it’s obsession with instant ‘likes’ is never going to deliver.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s