A fortnight or so ago, as part of the campaign for this week’s Clacton byelection, Douglas Carswell and Nigel Farage addressed a public meeting. The hall where it was held is only a stone’s throw from Jaywick, the jumble of former holiday chalets and potholed streets that is reckoned to be the poorest council ward in England: on the face of it, a symbol of the kind of deep social problems that tend to be synonymous with political apathy. That night, though, about 900 people turned up.
It’s said that Farage considers it the most extraordinary meeting he’s ever experienced. Carswell, meanwhile, highlighted a perfect example of everything he says he is running against: a recent article by the Times columnist Matthew Parris, which reflected the occasional tendency of Tory-aligned media voices to have a pop at places progress has supposedly left behind – a strange stance for a Conservative, but there we are.
Clacton, Parris had written, represented “Britain on crutches …tracksuit-and-trainers Britain, tattoo-parlour Britain, all-our-yesterdays Britain”. Carswell was having none of that. “Clacton is as much a part of Britain today as the street where you live, Mr Parris,” he thundered, “and if Clacton has problems, they are caused by the chumocracy in Westminster of which you are a part.” Reading about what happened, I was reminded of my recent visits to Scotland, packed meetings in similarly peripheral places, and the exact same themes: abandonment, the distant menace of London, the sense that people in the capital have not just ignored whole swaths of the country but feel they have been right to do so.
Politicians need to get on top of this feeling of disenfranchisement quickly, otherwise there is real trouble ahead. And Farage knows how to turn a phrase – chumocracy is a great word.