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Essex is ready for a Labour revival

Long the home of the ‘working-class Tory’ stereotype, the recent stagnation of the Thatcherite dream means Essex could soon be a Labour heartland, writes LIAM BARRETT

THE year is 2019 and Thatcher’s fiscal policies of the 1980s has continued to have detrimental effects on the Essex towns she once sought to fight for.

The right-to-buy scheme, enabling council house tenants to take ownership of their property with a discounted price, was a huge score for many Essex voters who once saw the Labour Party as their natural choice.

What followed was lower taxation and control of inflation, advantageous for many former inhabitants of east London, who travelled across the Essex landscape with hope for a more suburban lifestyle.

The Conservative policies under Thatcher’s premiership from 1979-90 only had short-term successes. Yes, people bought their homes, had a steady income and owned their own cars, so were willing to vote for a then-hopeful Tory Party.

What has since happened, under a Tory premiership that succeeded to power in 2010, has wreaked havoc on communities once prospering. Towns like Thurrock and Basildon, which still marginally voted Conservative in recent elections, have faced existential social and economic decline to due to exhaustive austerity cuts.

In Thurrock, a hub of dockland workers and social housing communities, has seen crime soar and intense cuts being made to their local services.

In 2018, the Financial Times reported that a Tory-led Thurrock council faced a 62 per cent cut in their social care unit, the biggest slump out of 353 local authorities. The FT took note that debilitating cuts have become a “central issue” in the run-up to elections.

Meanwhile, in the once opportunistic new town of Basildon, an estimated one quarter of the town’s children now live in poverty.

This means that approximately 25 per cent of children living in homes that survive off 60 per cent less than the average household income.

Furthermore, leading food bank provider, Trussell Trust, witnessed a 167 per cent spike in food parcels being handed out in and around Basildon.

It is without doubt that cuts coming from the central government and rising poverty in working-class areas of Essex have had a crippling effect on the lives of many who work tirelessly to just to get by. It is highly questionable why constituents in Basildon and Thurrock continue to vote Conservative, a party that has been the pioneer of stagnating wages, high rents and unstable employment.

In the 2017 snap election, although the government retained power on the seats of Basildon and Thurrock, there was a significant swing towards Labour. The Labour Party took 32.5 per cent of the vote in South Basildon & East Thurrock, which was a 7.3 per cent increase in their local voter share. Moreover, the election in Thurrock was a nail-biting one as the Conservatives and Labour held 39.5 and 38.8 per cent of the vote respectively, with the Tory Party hanging on by a thread with a mere 345 majority.

This was an overwhelming result for a Labour Party that started the election trailing behind in the polls. Although the party increased its House of Commons seats by 30, with its share of the electorate the largest since 1945, a momentous gain for them in the future would be Essex. Corbyn’s Labour, always championed in the north for its support of the working class, must espouse the same socialist rhetoric in the forgotten towns of south-east England.

With the issue of Brexit miring the two mainstream parties in scandalous incompetence, the stoicism Corbyn is currently challenged with could be eased if he moves away from the Brexit argument temporarily. A socialist stalwart and vociferous opponent of austerity measures on the lower classes, Corbyn’s rigorous campaigning in 2017 could help him placate many frustrated voters in Basildon and Thurrock. Corbyn visited the Basildon ward of Pitsea, specifically a leisure centre that is the host of food banks, during his 2017 election tour.

He used his visit to speak mainly on his now debunked Brexit vision, although he spoke a little on his pledge to bring back many emergency service workers that had been cut by the Tory Home Office. His Pitsea strategy was on the on the right lines considering all constituencies of Essex voted to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum.

However, if he spoke more on the setbacks facing areas like Pitsea, such as soaring crime rates and impoverished communities, it would have had more impact.

With the Conservative leadership contest in full swing and an array of candidates already cannibalising each other over the Brexit impasse, this is Corbyn’s prime position to enter fight mode and enlighten a disenfranchised Essex commuter belt.

Whilst Brexit continues to wreak havoc in Parliament, with no end in sight until October, it leaves only a small number of politicians talking about domestic problems. Corbyn should implement a radical and transformative socialist manifesto to appease the working-class voters that his party has traditionally represented. With Essex always being perceived as a capitalist and new money enclave, the country’s faltering towns can overcome harsh realities with a Corbyn-led Labour government.

This could foresee Labour holding the keys to Number 10, with an encouraging left government overturning a moribund political climate.

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