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WITH a new prime minister in office leading what is arguably the most radical right-wing government the nation has seen it is acceptable to cast caution on forgotten areas of Britain. With MPs rallying behind the incompetent Boris Johnson to deliver a no-deal Brexit, a general election is expected for the coming autumn.
A town like Basildon, an area facing economic uncertainty and hardship, could use this opportunity to oust their incumbent MP for South Basildon and East Thurrock: Stephen Metcalfe.
Metcalfe, a Brexit hardliner and an ideologically hardcore conservative, with no background in the town of Basildon, has been repeatedly elected as its representative since 2010.
The Loughton-based printing businessman turned politician rode the waves of fresh-faced conservatism under David Cameron’s successful bid for Downing Street nine years ago. Metcalfe decided, rather absurdly, to contest the seat of South Basildon, a staunchly working-class district in a new town struggling for opportunity.
What Basildon has faced, since 2010, is an increase in poverty and a defunded local economy. Problems that have been overshadowed by Metcalfe’s fervent desire to leave the European Union, with or without a deal.
It is fair to admit that Metcalfe’s constituency of South Basildon and East Thurrock voted overwhelmingly for Brexit in the 2016 referendum, with 68 per cent and 31 per cent voting for Leave and Remain respectively.
However, his allegiance to a no-deal compared to what he deems a bad withdrawal agreement would have troublesome consequences for a town he is meant to speak on behalf of. With British jobs at risk and heavy rumours that the NHS would be forced to stockpile, Basildon and its residents already in dire straits would face further challenges.
Drastic cuts to the council precede an exponential rise in the need for foodbanks amongst Basildon’s inhabitants. The local issues of homelessness, drops in local police numbers and a dilapidated town centre in pursuit of a regeneration scheme are all contributing factors to Basildon’s suffering. Whilst all this unravels, Metcalfe received a 2.7 per cent pay rise, seeing his annual MP wage amount to £79,468 this March. The revelation of his pay rise is certainly of interest to his constituents.
Not only has Metcalfe ignored the detrimental effects of a Conservative-led austerity programme, he has vouched to potentially jeopardise Basildon’s economy further as a no-deal Brexit proponent.
Although initially a rebel against embattled prime minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, he succumbed to pressure from his party and a looming first deadline to then support it in the House of Commons. Now the deadline is set for October and the Brexit impasse continues to drag on. It is disconcerting to wonder whether Metcalfe would rally behind no-deal again, albeit under a new prime minister.
To further critique his platform as South Basildon’s de facto speaker in Westminster, Metcalfe’s unsurprising but controversial silence on social issues is ubiquitous to his political career.
Metcalfe infamously voted against the same-sex marriage Bill of 2013 that enabled homosexual couples to marry lawfully. He was one of 136 Conservative MPs to do so, raising suspicions around his traditional stance on liberal ideas.
Moreover, his silence is worrying considering the goings-on in his constituency. Basildon’s sole gay nightclub recently faced backlash from a local Christian group which targeted the LGBTQ safe space with anti-gay leaflets. Metcalfe didn’t comment on the abject discrimination against his local gay community.
Not only that, he has not commented either on a recent racist chant that was directed at the newly elected Mayor of Basildon Borough Council, David Burton-Sampson. Maybe this is because the residents of Basildon elected a Labour coalition council after its recent local elections, a thinly veiled swipe at their Tory representative in Parliament.
With Stephen Metcalfe at the helm in Basildon there will be no dismantling of austerity measures. Basildon has always prided itself on being a hub for the working-class Essex population, descendants of a once overcrowded East End of London.
To say Stephen Metcalfe and his team are unfit to lead Basildon in Parliament would be an understatement. With a surge in conservative populism and a dangerous atmosphere over Brexit, Metcalfe is doing little to calm these turbulent times for the sake of his constituents.
Liam Barrett is a socialist commentator based in Basildon, follow @LiamMBarrett.
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