Friday, 10 October 2014

Tatty Seaside Town

I was born in a dormitory town of a faded seaside resort in 1971. St Annes-On-Sea was ever the poor relation to Blackpool, its bigger cousin 5 miles down the coast but in the early 1900s it had a sense of grandeur and class that alluded the brasher neighbour just to the North. 5 miles south lay Lytham, another Edwardian promenading hotspot, now a genteel retirement village being overtaken by a Manchester influx of BBC employees and the creative industries clustered around the one shining example of progress the North West can offer; a sore point that has whispered rumours of 'takeover' from older residents.

These days I find only those from the North and fans of golf have heard of Lytham St Annes. I mention all this because watching the by-election in Clacton, another faded seaside town, brought up strong memories of home and also got me wondering whether the safe Tory seat of Fylde, with a majority of 13,000 odd on a 43& turnout could be another Clacton come next year.

The images of that bye-election that will stay with me are of multiple members of the public in electric wheelchairs stopped in the street mid fag puff for their opinion, a mother outside holiday accommodation become permanent housing saying no-one cared about the people who lived there, seried ranks of respectable pensioners in hiking coats of the type permanently on sale in Millets telling reporters that the politicians had no concern for their old fashioned white working class views and young people brandishing the 'change' dictum ('we've tried the others, why not them?'). It didn't matter one iota that the other parties pointed out they would elect the same MP as they had had for ten years plus, that they had this policy or that policy, that UKIP would do this or that which contradicted the very thing they claimed to care about; there was an air of inevitability about the whole process.

When I visit my dad, still in the same house in Ansdell (between Lytham and St Annes) where I grew up we always go to the workings men's club of which he has been a member since 1959. He has been President. Chairman, Committee member, his father the same before him, it is a never changing world of family lineage and permanence; my younger brother once drew a plan of where all would sit on a Sunday afternoon which was 100% correct. In that club are the people that demonstrate a cross section of the 57& who didn't vote in the Fylde. There is little interest in Westminster politics within these walls. Yet there is increasing sympathy for UKIP. There is also a similar cross section of the people I saw in the media from Clacton both here and outside the 1920's red brick walls. Electric wheelchairs abound complete with fag puffing occupiers, the Peter Storm all weather coats, the rental tenants in temporary accommodation. Like their brethren in Clacton they don't care that much about a change in income tax, a fiddling with devolution, the promises they know will be broken like last time from the 'major' parties. They are a world away from the media world of Cameron and Miliband and Clegg and they dislike all of them equally, a basic disgust at the 'other' that transcends policy and enters the personal.

If UKIP can get a decent proportion of this 57% to the polls alongside adding the disgruntled from other party voters they will walk it. Like them or not, UKIP are the English mirror image to the Scottish experience of late. Where the Scots had Radical Independence targeting the non voting working class, we have Farage and company. It is a testament to him, like him or not, that an extremely wealthy City boy can become a 'man of the people' through the simple expedient of drinking beer and smoking but it works. Compared to the awkward schoolboy on a trip to the factory schtick of the three other party leaders he offers a real world experience, an ability to communicate with normal people about normal things in a normal way. If those of us, myself included, do not find a way to counter that with our own beliefs in a similar approach, we could be looking at a very different UK come May of next year.

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