Plenty of Essex headlines generated by Ukip’s gains in Basildon, Castle Point and Southend. “Has Essex Man become Ukip Man?” asked the BBC’s Nick Robinson; the Evening Standard’s headline read, “Essex Man is backing Ukip.” Nigel Farage was busy being snapped drinking a pint of IPA in Benfleet, the BBC ran a vox pop in Basildon and numerous TV reporters besieged the new towns.
The first thing to say is that Essex is not one homogenous area and that Ukip has done relatively well in traditional East End overspill areas. While I don’t in any way agree with Ukip’s policies – based on exaggeration of immigration figures, Europhobia and benefits myths — it’s not hard to see why they might appeal to disillusioned and suffering people in Estuary Essex.
In Essex they don’t like pomposity or anyone selling them a pup. The MPs’ expenses scandal fuelled people’s disillusion, as has Labour’s timidity in standing up to the banking industry and the coalition’s austerity policies. In my book The Joy of Essex Harlow’s MP Robert Halfon told me of his Essex-tailored manifesto, which made it very clear he wasn’t on the take and it seemed to work with his constituents: “I do NOT claim for a second home, as I have only one home in Harlow. I do NOT employ a relative. I do NOT claim for a newspaper allowance. I do NOT claim for first class train travel. I do NOT claim a large food allowance.”
Essex Man and Woman likes to think of themselves as anti-establishment and perhaps part of Ukip’s appeal is the fact that Nigel Farage keeps insisting they’re not spin doctored and have real people saying off-message things. At the other end of the Essex political spectrum, the late Bob Crow earned respect for simply saying what he meant in an on-message age.
And Essex Man likes to think politicians have experience of the real world, yet too many politicians, having spent their entire lives at Westminster, look like they couldn’t could run a market stall in Harlow or Basildon or be decent company in the pub. Both Labour and the Conservatives could learn from this if they want to get their seats back.