This year marks the 70th anniversary of Basildon being proclaimed a new town under a post-war socialist government. 30 years after a succession of housing estates and vast developments were built to cater to the town’s new inhabitants from the East End, Margaret Thatcher implemented a capitalist endeavour on the Essex heartland from the 1980’s onwards.
The town was a pull factor for working-class Londoners who worked on the Docklands or the warehouses that formed the banks of the Thames estuary. A suburban lifestyle enticed an industrious workforce to move out of overcrowded spaces and commute into their place of work each day. This allowed a staunchly conservative Thatcher to engage with a working-class base that searched for a more well-off lifestyle in Basildon.
As the Docklands was transformed to become the financial hub of the capital’s banking elite, the once manual labour workforce was shunned for a revitalised financial sector. As a consequence, the roll-back of public services and social mobility has wreaked havoc on communities, like Basildon, designed for suburban affluence.
Basildon, a political bellwether, is now facing searing deprivation and poverty for many of its residents. Recently labelled the 6th most unequal town in the country, the Thatcherite dream that was previously prominent has withered away. Basildon voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU in 2016, a loaded assault on the establishment that has left Basildon behind after decades of neoliberal ideals.
The anti-EU atmosphere that overshadows the town’s political allegiances has allowed it to be a secure seat for the Brexit party and other radical right-wing figures. South Basildon and East Thurrock’s MP, Stephen Metcalfe, has vouched for an ERG-backed no-deal Brexit to echo the views of his constituents. Moreover, in the past he has opposed liberal ideas that obstruct his hardcore conservative beliefs, specifically his voting down of the same-sex marriage bill in 2013.
The frustration over the establishment and the lack of opportunity in a former promised land has left Basildon residents exhausted by the centrist One Nation ground it formerly adhered to. Although a shift to the right has dominated Basildon’s parliamentary representation, it has recently elected a Labour-Independent coalition onto its council in the recent local elections. The trajectory is shifting and it is fair to predict that Basildon could potentially become a marginal seat for both mainstream parties if a general election is upon us.
Losing faith in a Conservative party gone rogue has fervently justified the inability to alleviate class struggle when the right-wing is governing. Thatcher’s selling off of council homes and dismantling of a manufacturing sector for a high-flying City one has immiserated Basildon immensely. It is disconcerting that a town like Basildon will continue to struggle if Boris Johnson is elected as a new prime minister. What it needs is a radical government from the hard left to revitalise the town’s original purpose. Bringing back a local economy and pumping more money into local services would benefit Basildon Borough Council exponentially.
With the UN expressing consternation on the UK’s current poverty situation, Basildon mirrors exactly what the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty has reported. Around 14 million people in the country live in relative poverty. Similarly, an estimated 25% of Basildon’s child population live under the breadline, with an increase expected once a full introduction of the corrupt and muddled Universal Credit system comes into effect.
If politicians and journalists want to understand Basildon’s hardship, look no further than Westminster. With a Tory party at the forefront of the nation’s economic and social policies, towns like Basildon, once a capitalist’s dream, will continue to destruct at an alarming rate.