Clacton calling

The initial candidate for Clacton - Tony Mack \ Credit : Personal Photo

Karen Constantine on Mr narcissist and the dangerous policies he stands for

Farage lit up his audience on Tuesday 18th June, as he pitched – perfectly, it has to be said – to an almost packed Princes Theatre in Clacton. Sauntering in, under a spotlight from the back of the auditorium, accompanied by full volume Eminem, “Guess who’s back… back again…everybody follow me… ‘cos we need a little controversy.” The crowd already standing in admiration, swaying in unison flipped their phones to film his entrance whilst singing along. What a boy that Farage is. The room rippled with excitement. Was the new Reform leader really here? The exploding firework cannons either side of him as he took centre stage confirmed he was indeed. 

I’d spent the day in Clacton, taking in the sights from Holland-on-Sea to Jaywick, and had bought tickets to the “show”. That’s what the MC called it and who am I to argue? Clacton was clean, welcoming and neat. Quite unlike more edgy South Thanet where I first encountered Farage in 2015. Reform posters abounded around the town, including on public land, surely agents from other parties could’ve complained about that? They were even plastered over the hapless Conservative candidate’s Corex hoarding, ‘our local man delivering in Westminster,’ it boasted. It felt like the Conservatives had packed up and left town some while ago. 

In some parts of the town, the eye catching blue posters promoted the previous Reform candidate, Tony Mack who was announced on the Reform website before Nigel changed his mind and, if he was going to have any chance of saving Britain, decided Clacton was for him after all. Too bad for the candidate that had already put in the legwork. Move over Mack – Nige’s back, back again. 

Talking to locals in cafes, bars and on the streets, there was open rancour about Nigel being “parachuted in”. One cafe owner said, “Tony’s a friend, he’s local, lives here – and Nigel’s nicked all his ideas.” Local is definitely a thing in GE 2024. 

Of course, the real reasons for Nigel Farage’s decision to stand in this election, having declared he wouldn’t, are complex, and I assume driven by funders’ demands. The fact that 27,000 people in the constituency didn’t vote at all in 2019, combined with what appears to be weak opposition must have helped him to arrive at that decision. 

In the time I was in Clacton I didn’t see one single Labour poster. That really surprised me. And I spotted only a handful of upscale Conservative displays. 

Natasha Osbourne, the Green Party candidate was however bravely in the thick of it outside the theatre entrance. Along with two other Green Party activists, and her baby strapped to her back, she was handing out homespun leaflets, “VOTE FOR HOPE, NOT HATE, VOTE GREEN.” She told me she simply must stand up against the Farage circus, despite receiving death threats on social media. I greatly admired her courage and tenacity and told her so. 

Farage is ahead in the polls with a 72% chance of winning. He’s skilfully deploying the electioneering tactics he’s acquired elsewhere – this is his eighth attempt to secure a seat after all. 

The audience chatted amicably amongst themselves before Farage arrived, fifteen minutes late on stage. The man next to me introduced himself to the guy at the side of him, “Hi, I’ve been a Labour voter all my life – voted Blair twice. I’m an immigrant, my parents arrived in the 1950s. I’ll never vote Labour again.” The second man nodded, and confirmed he was here to listen and hadn’t yet made up his mind who to vote for. Their conversation was instructive. “Farage has put Clacton on the map. I just don’t want him to hand it to Labour – that’s the danger. Labour is already saying they are going to ban things, ban this, ban that, especially if they get a landslide. If that happens I’m going to leave the country.” Well he can can’t he? I presume he holds an EU passport. Post Brexit, we Brits have come to realise the freedoms that were voted away, including the ability to easily live elsewhere in Europe.

As if to emphasise how bad things are, he continued. “They’ve destroyed all the farms and Starmer is planning blackouts to reach net zero.”  “It’ll be like medieval times.” His new friend responded. They agree with each other. No one wants to turn the clock back that far. “And not only that, if you disagree with anything, you’re deemed far right.” 

Meanwhile, Farage is outlining the challenge ahead. “We are a small insurgent party now polling at 19%. We’ve overtaken the Tories. We’re now official opposition. The Conservatives have ruined the country and Labour will bankrupt Britain. You must go from this hall and tell people to vote Reform.” 

The smiling ‘man of the people’ posters, placed on every chair were clearly meant to be taken away. But just in case you left yours behind more ‘Vote Reform’ boards were being handed out by theatre staff as we exited. The young black guy doling them out thanked us – for not taking one. 

Buoyed by the warm reception, Nigel continued. By now he had a nice call and response vibe going. 

“We haven’t written a manifesto because manifestos are….” “Lies!” The audience shout at ear splitting levels. Reform have drafted a contract instead. 

“You can’t get your kid into school. Can’t get to see a GP. The roads are broken. We spend £176 billion a year on the NHS. And it all goes to the legions of managers!” Farage fulminates. The crowd breaks into euphoric applause. God damn those managers organising patient appointments, and buying vital supplies. God damn their staff rotas and doctor rotations. 

Nigel confides in his audience it’s all because of “Population growth. 380,000 people don’t start cancer treatment on time. We are fifteen years behind Europe. I’ve written the reforms for our NHS into our contract.” The audience is relieved. Nige’ will sort out those greedy managers and cancer treatment waiting times. He’ll fix it so it works with European-style efficiency. 

Nige’ is on a roll now, the brass-buttoned, double-breasted blazer is undone, he means business, he’s pacing, prancing and talking about his MEP days. “It was amazing. We changed British history, we’ve done it before and we’ll do it again. This election is the immigration election.” More thundering applause. 

Farage tells his audience, “You’ve been betrayed.” The Conservative government never really believed in leaving, “so four years on, that’s persuaded me to throw myself in the trenches.” He’s romping home now. The audience old and young alike – and there are young people in the audience – are increasingly convinced. For impact, he presses his point, “1 in 30 people have come here in the last two years. Nothing works anymore.” The crowd shout back unbridled approval. “800 young men crossed the channel today. It costs us £8M a day to put them into hotels. This is a national security crisis.” Heads are shaking in agreement across the theatre. Nigel’s emboldened, he does that pirouette thing, and that nod of his head, as if he’s only speaking to you, letting you into the secret. “Tony Blair started it.” Unprompted, the audience hisses loudly and recoils. Yes. Tony Blair – politics started with him. Tony and NHS managers, they are to blame. No wait, it’s not just them, “4.3 Million people have come into our country under the Conservatives. And remember,” Farage says, solemnly, “ISIS said they will use European immigration routes.” 

The lie is complete. It’s the NHS managers, Tony Blair and ISIS wrecking the country. 

Farage, speaking without notes, without hesitation, now changes tack, he tells the audience he will abolish the BBC licence fee. Stop ULEZ and 20 MPH zones. The crowd goes wild. It’s a smorgasbord of liberation. Something, “Call me Dave…wouldn’t have done.” He chortles, It’s an ‘in’ joke, everyone titters. They all get it. 

“I was the head of a movement and we changed the course of history. I cannot let my people down. I did the irrational, the impossible thing.” He means Brexit. More roof rattling cheers. “We’ll be the silent majority and I’ll represent you in Parliament. We are going to do it. Be in no doubt. We’ll win in 2029. This isn’t a short term commando raid. This is a long term mission to change our country.” The relief is palpable. Thank God Farage is going to save us all. Save us from NHS managers, Tony Blair, “Call me Dave,” ISIS, ULEZ  and the BBC. 

But wait, not just that… as a national figure he’ll “Reform benefits and then we won’t need the migrants. Those that won’t take jobs? We should cut their benefits.” Who knew it could be that easy? He will also stop the gender nonsense in our schools, “Will stand up against the poisoning of children in our schools and universities. Sexual preference is nonsense. The diversity and inclusion agenda is spoiling the country. We can be traditional and radical.”  He’s going to get us out of the EHRC – of course. That’s the reason Brexit hasn’t worked. 

With a final flourish Nige’, welcomed not one, but four defecting local Conservative councillors onto the stage. Queue more applause for the rats leaving a sinking ship. Farage surely hasn’t forgotten his 2015 legacy to the good people of Thanet? The only UKIP run council in the country, who genuinely believed they could start immediate deportations of “illegals” via a nearby defunct World War Two airfield? Chaotic, shambolic, divisive, amateur and thankfully short-lived, sum’s that epoch up! 

By the end of Nigel Farage’s performance, as the pair next to me stood up together to applaud rapturously, it was clear, the not-sure, the here-to-listen-man had made up his mind. He’ll be voting Reform. 

Labour need to learn from this. The lessons are clear. Beyond carefully crafted policies driven by focus groups, it’s “connection” that really matters. Politics is emotional. Voters need to feel people care, hence the clamour for local candidates. Surely they can be relied upon to actually care for their constituency and constituents? MPs need to genuinely connect to the voters. If they don’t, Reform will. 

Reform aren’t fighting this election they are fighting the next one.


  1. A great article and to the point, albeit very depressing. I went to a teacher training college in Clacton years ago (long closed along with Butlins and much of the light manufacturing in the area) and in many ways all the signs were there, seasonal unemployment, low wage, low skill economy, a largely elderly population, little inward investment, a holiday trade in decline.

    The population of Clacton has been described to me by a good many of my friends who still live in the area, as like a pudding bowl -young families at one end and older people at the other end and those of working age and able to work, often don’t have the necessary skills employers want, Witness the queues of traffic on the A133 going out of Clacton every weekday morning towards the A12, Colchester, etc., working elsewhere but not Clacton.

    Young people with any sense leave and don’t come back. Schools in the area under achieve. The tourist industry is barely noticeable today, most of the hotels that you see are housing the homeless. For a time accommodation was cheap -think of Jaywick for instance and with the decline of tourism, many places converted to HMOs.
    Like so many other seaside places this tended to attract people from other areas believing there would be some work -there was none. Crime and anti-social behaviour often go hand in hand when there is no hope.

    The irony is all these factors have nothing to do with immigration, the EU, etc., but as always sections of our media love scapegoats and people never learn. History has a tendency to repeat itself, often with terrible consequences. Many of my former college friends still living in the area are now reluctant to go into town for fear of intimidation. That in itself is very worrying. There is more I can say to give it more context, but that is enough for now.

  2. I would add there is no tradition of trade unionism in the area. Clacton Trades Council has spluttered in and out of existence for many years. Back in the 1970s, as a student observer to the then Trades Council, they were more concerned about double yellow lines along Rosemary Road than anything else. My student union were more interested in fighting the cuts and seeking support than anything else. The only trade union of note back then was the T&G who were well organised in Butlins holiday camp, but Butlins was gone by the early 1980s. Much of the employment in the area then tended to be either family firms (many now long gone) or a service sector oriented around the needs of the tourist industry. When Butlins closed, it was in many ways the ends of mass tourism for Clacton, ironically at the same time the mines, heavy engineering and manufacturing were closing in the old industrial areas. Something that is often overlooked by commentators. Clacton started out as an upmarket resort for the late Victorians and Edwardians but by the 1930s and postwar period it was a thoroughly working class resort. The Labour Party have had occasional representation in the area, but more success was to be found in nearby Harwich where they are better established. The only real blip of note was the success of Ivan Henderson for Labour in the 1997 landslide election. He wasn’t expected to win and Clacton was not on the target list. He was one of the few Labour candidates around with a manual background ( a docker). The honeymoon was short- lived; he lost the seat in 2005 that was affected by substantial boundary changes.

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