Nigel Farage banks on older voters in race to become MP for Clacton

Nigel Farage’s bid to win the seat of Clacton in the UK general election is being helped by a demographic shift that the new leader of Reform UK hopes will land him in the House of Commons on his eighth attempt.

The seaside town on the east coast of England, which was held by the Conservatives in 2019, is home to an ageing population that is more reliant on squeezed public services and voted heavily to leave the EU in 2016.

In 2014, Clacton returned ex-Tory Douglas Carswell to the Commons as the first MP for the UK Independence Party, which arch-Brexiter Farage led at the time.

The announcement by the co-founder of Reform on Monday that he would contest the seat and replace Richard Tice as party leader came weeks after he vowed to take a back-seat role in the election. Farage is hoping to capitalise on the make-up and political outlook of the constituency to repeat that victory and deliver the Tories a fresh blow.

“You’re all back,” said Neville Hurling, a 67-year-old semi-retired plasterer, as reporters followed Farage to the constituency this week.

Hurling said he voted for Carswell in 2014 because he was a good local MP and would back Farage on July 4 owing to Reform’s promise to slash immigration.

He voted Conservative in 2019 after the Brexit party — now Reform — unilaterally withdrew candidates in Tory-held seats but said he felt betrayed by then prime minister Boris Johnson. “I don’t trust Farage either, but we need a refresh of politics,” Hurling said.

About one-third of people who live in Clacton, including Hurling, receive the state pension, according to official data. Between 2011 and 2021, the median age of residents in the constituency’s town centre rose by three years to 50, compared with one year to 39 across England.

Neville Hurling with friend Paul Judd
Neville Hurling, left, with friend Paul Judd. Hurling said he would back Farage on July 4 owing to Reform’s promise to slash immigration. © Daniel Jones/FT

Ben Ansell, professor of politics at Oxford university, said Clacton was fertile terrain for Reform because it had the fourth-highest number of retirees of any constituency in England and was one of the most pro-Brexit parts of the country.

Roughly 72 per cent of voters in the constituency supported leave in the 2016 EU referendum. One-third of Reform’s supporters nationally are 55 and above.

Ansell noted that Clacton’s electorate, which numbered 70,930 in 2019, was similar to that of areas such as Boston and Skegness in Lincolnshire, where Tice is standing, adding to Tory woes.

“Part of the dilemma is voters in these areas are stuck at a national level and it’s not clear what prospects they have other than Reform,” he said.

Nigel Farage addressing supporters at Clacton Pier
Nigel Farage told several hundred mostly elderly voters on Clacton Pier: ‘No longer will you be at the end of the line. No longer will you be ignored.’ © Daniel Jones/FT

Standing on a bench on the pier on Tuesday, Farage told several hundred mostly elderly voters that their area had played a pivotal role in the campaign to leave the EU.

“Without Clacton, Brexit would not have happened,” said Farage, as he promised to be the “voice of opposition” if elected to parliament. “No longer will you be at the end of the line. No longer will you be ignored,” he said to cheers.

Keiran Pedley, research director at polling company Ipsos, said the area’s high concentration of leave voters meant Farage had a “great chance” of overturning the Tory majority of 24,702 majority.

Several pollsters this week said Reform had registered a bounce in the polls after Farage returned to the frontline, with two placing the party only two percentage points behind the Conservatives on 17 per cent.

Down the road in Jaywick, a part of the constituency ranked Britain’s most deprived town for more than a decade, voters said Farage spoke “common sense” but voiced concern that his brand of politics would not fit at a time when the area was undergoing some regeneration.

Mo Tyler, a shop owner, said she had always voted Conservative but was leaning towards Farage who she expected to gather significant support. “He does seem to talk sense on the cost of living and respecting your own area and country,” she said.

“Even if worrying about immigration sounds xenophobic, it’s about the NHS and waiting lists,” said Gary James, an unemployed resident.

Tyler’s shop is in the Sunspot, a commercial zone that received £5.3mn in funding from a government post-Covid recovery fund and the local and district councils, and had been buoyed by investment in an area commonly associated with alcohol and drug misuse.

Bradley Thompson, an independent councillor for Jaywick since 2023, said people had grown disillusioned after years of neglect by politicians and worried the contest would do little to boost their faith in the system.

“People come in, promise them the world and then disappear,” he said. “We need someone who is local, committed and doesn’t just give up on the area.”

Mo Tyler, owner of Angelwood, in her Jaywick shop.
Mo Tyler, a shop owner in Jaywick, said she had always voted Conservative but was leaning towards Farage who she expected to gather significant support. © Daniel Jones/FT

During his visit Farage, who lives in Kent, said he appreciated the challenges facing parts of the constituency, including stark deprivation, low education attainment and high unemployment, but thought his visibility would make a difference.

“What I have said is if a national figure represents a constituency that is at the end of the railway line, literally marginalised, [and] ignored, maybe I can encourage more investment,” he said, attributing the current situation in part to levels of immigration.

But Ansell said Farage would not need voters in Jaywick to win the race and would instead focus on homeowning pensioners in other parts of the constituency. “They’re going to turn out and vote for him,” he said.

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