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Why immigration-sceptic East Thanet won’t back Reform

A local man pictured in Broadstairs, Thanet. Credit: Getty

July 4, 2024 - 10:00am

East Thanet

In a little corner of Kent where the shadow of Nigel Farage looms large, constituents are still deciding on the least bad option at the polls. The newly-formed constituency of East Thanet — which includes the coastal towns of Ramsgate, Margate and Broadstairs — is the successor seat to South Thanet, where Farage ran for election in 2015.

Thanet is a swing location, where voting patterns have mirrored the nation’s broader political trends over the last 40 years. South Thanet voted Conservative during the Thatcher era before turning to New Labour in 1997. It returned to the Tories during the Cameron years and remained blue through the more recent populist surge of Brexit. Farage came second to Tory candidate Craig Mackinlay in 2015, with Labour some way behind in third.

Now, after 14 years of perceived Tory failure, Labour looks poised to reclaim East Thanet. The 2023 local elections saw the council swing to Keir Starmer’s party, while the most recent YouGov polling suggests a comfortable win for Labour’s Polly Billington.

From conversations with local residents, however, few are optimistic about this prospect. Jim, a 50-year-old long-term unemployed local from Ramsgate, stressed that what really concerns locals is immigration. “All the people in the doorways now are immigrants,” he told me. “They get off the boat and then leg it.” While he is sympathetic to the plight of those “looking for a better life”, he is less happy about the wasted “money we’re sending to France”. Jim isn’t sure the illegal Channel crossings will stop under a Labour government, although he’s willing to “give Starmer a chance”. After all, “how much worse can it get?”

Other locals mention the effects of immigration, felt as a pressure both on public services and the changing culture of the community. Two decades ago, Cliftonville (“Kosoville”) — whose current population is roughly 6,000 people — absorbed around 1,500 refugees from Eastern Europe. In his 2002 book All The Devils Are Here, the late journalist David Seabrook wrote that it was “to the delight of a few hard-up hoteliers and the general disgust of the locals, who allege a marked increase in thefts.” More recently, Cliftonville’s streets include Middle Eastern youths who linger outside shop fronts.

Yet Jim claims that “everyone I know” who voted for Boris Johnson in 2019 is switching to Labour this year. If, as Farage has argued, the Conservative Party is “a broad church without any religion,” then it seems Starmer’s Labour Party has become the last refuge for non-believers.

Crossing the border into the neighbouring constituency of Herne Bay and Sandwich, retired engineer and lifelong Tory voter Tom informed me that he was thinking of voting for Reform UK but that he was put off by the local candidate, Amelia Randall, failing to turn up at the Herne Bay and Sandwich hustings. Randall, who has based her campaign around her “mistakes” in life, has “little to say” on local issues such as housebuilding or immigration, according to Tom. He knows that 80-year-old popular Tory candidate Roger Gale, who was MP for North Thanet for 40 years before boundary changes, is unlikely to “rock the boat”, but he sees a vote for Reform as little more than a “protest”.

This reluctance among voters to challenge the established parties is what will damage Reform’s hopes in Farage’s former constituency. Those I spoke to who once voted for Ukip and Brexit are either abstaining or switching to Labour, as they recognise that a vote for Reform is unlikely to yield results. “Farage even said so himself,” Jim told me. For all of Farage’s claims that Reform is the only viable Opposition after the Tory meltdown, the people of East Thanet seem more concerned about having a say over who’s in power than the character of a rebellious opposition.


Bradley Strotten is a freelance writer

BradStrotten

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Bob Rowlands
Bob Rowlands
8 days ago

Interesting comments but they miss the essential point. There is nothing much between Cons & Labour in policy terms (left of centre blob liberal policies). Reform is a once in a lifetime opportunity to move the dial back to the right of centre. The cons will never be this bad again! Europe is moving in the direction of the populists we are just too stupid here to recognise it yet.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
4 days ago
Reply to  Bob Rowlands

Your point is at least modified, if not completely refuted by the article. not everybody is moving to the right wing populists quite clearly either in France or in this country.

Citizen Diversity
Citizen Diversity
8 days ago

How much worse can it get? Poor, poor Jim, a non-believer voting for a party led by a True Believer.

Sam Hill
Sam Hill
8 days ago

What comes over in this article is that Labour are going to win (and win big) almost by default. The turnout levels will, I suspect be rather telling. Presumably Labour has given the question of a lack of enthusiasm for them some thought, at least in private. We may yet end up in a rather bizarre situation where Starmer gets his historic majority, yet still has to tread on eggshells because of a fear (well-founded or not) that the voters will flip fast.
Reform is basically a rather gaudy protest that talks a good game but, if the manifesto is anything to go by, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence outside of talk. I suspect they’ll get a handful of seats. Farage himself hit on a winning formula post 2010 and Conservative leaders found that they just couldn’t ignore him. He’s about to find out that Keir Starmer with a 200 majority will not only ignore him, but take great pleasure in doing so.
Starmer will, of course, run into all the same issue that the Conservatives did. He’s probably going to have to be the one that admits we’ve thrown good money after bad in Ukraine. Like others he might start looking for things that are free, animate social media and are endless – Race Relations Act for example.
I won’t be voting today, but good luck to Starmer. But, like most people who are actually voting for him I’m not exactly optimistic.

Pedro the Exile
Pedro the Exile
8 days ago
Reply to  Sam Hill

He’s about to find out that Keir Starmer with a 200 majority will not only ignore him, but take great pleasure in doing so.
Maybe but i think you’ve identified why any initial euphoria and hubris might be tempered rather quickly..ie  still has to tread on eggshells because of a fear (well-founded or not) that the voters will flip fast.
If Reform get any seats they will be a thorn in the side of the new Administration and a constant reminder to Joe Public that there is an alternative.Farage was spectacularly effective at constantly poking the EU and calling out their failings. and I suspect he will revel in it-plus it will be an easy target as even without an effective opposition Labour’s “popularity” will tank steeply in the first 2-3 years as the demos realise that they hav eno solutions and in fact are making the situation worse.

David McKee
David McKee
8 days ago

Reform? A thorn in Labour’s side? You’re kidding! It will have even less impact on Labour than Caroline Lucas did.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
8 days ago
Reply to  David McKee

It’s not the impact on Labour that Reform MPs – or even just Farage – will have, but the impression on the general public that the trenchant criticisms of where Labour are (inevitably) failing.

As Pedro indicated, Farage’s presence in the European parliament was ascerbic enough for his absence to be just about the only positive the EU could derive from Brexit.

Citizen Diversity
Citizen Diversity
8 days ago

Jim, voting like playing in a seaside Bingo hall.
Broadstairs, the place where the cuts have reached the flower beds on the seafront, but not in the sense of cutting the weeds.

Matthew Freedman
Matthew Freedman
8 days ago

That is right and reform think there should be more tax cuts and public spending cuts = no plants in the beds.

j watson
j watson
8 days ago

Interesting. Alot of folks vote on an instinct – on assumption they vote – rather than a logical weighing up of differing manifestos. Sense from this Article is what seems to be coming across nationally – no matter how hard Tories and the Right tried to smear Starmer not much has stuck. He’s no charismatic leader, but folks subconsciously I would contend don’t want that type of leader now.
In addition folks just have a sense unfairness has increased. Many will see migration as a big component behind that, but they know the Right isn’t about to try and repair the damage to the Public realm it’s inflicted and they know Farage wouldn’t either.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
8 days ago
Reply to  j watson

Very well thought through. Starmer may turn out to be Corbyn’s Trojan Horse, but more likely he is truly a boring quite nice technocrat, and that is what most people want at this moment. Boris has really let us down. Farage is an amusing flyby.

Amelia Melkinthorpe
Amelia Melkinthorpe
8 days ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Starmer is a Trotskyite progressive. BE WARNED.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
7 days ago

I doubt it, but those who live longest will see t’most.

He showed no sign of it until it became expedient to support Old Mad Corbyn. We must all do what we must to thrive.

Santiago Excilio
Santiago Excilio
8 days ago

We all have our anecdotal evidence of this or that. I have heard numerous stories from pubs across the land of former red or blue tribalists switching to reform, or of people saying “eveyone I know is going to vote (this way, that way, the other way)”.

The reality is you cannot call elections on small isolated samples, moreover in this election 3 in 10 had still not decided which way to vote until today. That is a huge variable.

We will find out tomorrow.

Matthew Freedman
Matthew Freedman
8 days ago

Jim if you are worried about immigration get a job then

Kat L
Kat L
7 days ago

I don’t mean to be insulting but they really don’t know what a pack of weasels labour is? Tony Blair started this flood. Starmer will be an unmitigated disaster.