What do young people in Clacton think a Barbour jacket wearing, shotgun shooting, former city banker, pint swilling sixty-something year old man has to offer them, if anything? Naked Politics went to Clacton to find out.

With the Conservative party predicted to be heading towards huge losses -if not borderline extinction if some polls are accurate- there are plenty of places in this election that could end up with a never before seen result. 

Perhaps one the most talked about of those places is Clacton On Sea, a small seaside town in Essex that’s traditionally Conservative voting, but is now the stomping ground of Nigel Farage, the former UKIP leader and current leader of Reform UK whose flagship policies include of course: radically reducing migration into the UK. Clacton holds a unique place in British voting history, having elected the UK’s first UKIP MP from 2014-2017. It was a town that voted resoundingly for Brexit in the 2016 referendum, fertile ground for Farage to finally gain a seat in Parliament. 

But, Clacton isn’t just a town full of older Conservative people, there's a younger population too. Polling currently suggests most 18-24 year olds are planning to vote Labour; a young woman in Clacton also recently milkshaked Farage in the face because “she felt like it”. Farage evidently hasn’t won over everyone and remains a divisive figure, but is there more support for him among young people than we think?  What do young people in Clacton think a Barbour jacket wearing, shotgun shooting, former city banker, pint swilling sixty-something year old man has to offer them, if anything? Naked Politics went to Clacton to find out. 

One thing that’s on everyone’s mind, whoever we spoke to was the cost of living. 24 year old retail worker Ashley told us “You put £20 electric in your meter with just one person living in the house, it will last you two days. That used to last you a week.” She seemed concerned with corporate greed saying “energy companies know people can’t live without, so they are like f*ck it we’ll put the prices up because what are you going to do, not pay it? You’ve got to live”.    

27 year old hospitality worker Joanna also agreed. “I work hard for my money, I want some back in my pocket. I work silly hours, I have to work till three in the morning.” She cites a lack of housing as a major problem for her. “If I can't find a house I can pay rent for, how can I expect to aspire for the rest of my life? I live at home with my mum, at 27 I've had to move back in because the rent is so high I cannot afford to live alone. For a studio flat it costs around £850-£900. And it’s often terrible properties with mould on the walls, or other damage.”

In many ways, these young people finding it hard to make ends meet, with a scepticism of big corporations like energy companies sound like ideal voters for a more progressive politics; but both of them told us they like Reform UK. “I’m backing Nigel, I'm a reform girl” Joanna said. “We need change and he’s [Farage] the only one that’s going to change things”. Farage’s personal branding seems to have real cut through, not just the policies. Ashely said she felt he had a personal touch that other politicians are lacking. “He wants to help the working class people. He’s the only one that will come down here and speak to people like us, he makes an effort. He might get a milkshake thrown in his face, but he still comes and listens. He gives you the time and makes you feel like you’re a normal person.” 

Clacton is a place extremely reliant on tourism, and on a sunny day there are many outsiders who end up in the town for the day. Speaking to 20 year old Hassan from the nearby Labour voting town of Colchester, they said Nigel Farage’s migration rhetoric was “too aggressive…too racist…If he tries to crack down on immigration, it’s going to damage the country…all our services will fall apart”. 20 year old Raheem said he felt the Greens were “supporting young people more…[offering] free transport for under 21s for example”. It feels significant that the only young people we spoke to who were not either totally apathetic about politics, or on board with Farage were not actually from Clacton.     

Immigration was the theme that came up often, almost unprompted- and often accompanied by an insistence that they weren’t racist. Joanna believed that migrants are taking up resources that should be going to British citizens. “Looking at how amazing Australia works, or Switzerland. They don’t let people in that don’t want to work. I’m not racist but we let too much slide. If you’re going to come over here and work hard and wait on a housing list like we have to, fair f*cking dos, come in. But if you’re going to come in and automatically get money and a roof over your head that’s not fair”. She seemed particularly impressed with what she believed to be a Reform UK policy of requiring immigrants pay tax for five years before getting access to state support (we couldn’t find this cited in the manifesto).

Older voter Miriam who is in her sixties says she’ll be voting for Nigel. “This country needs reform…I think Nigel will stop some of the immigration, legal and illegal. I’m not racist, this country is too crowded.” She believed reducing migration numbers would solve most of the problems in the NHS. Like some of the younger people we spoke to she shared the concern that rich corporations were not paying their fair share. “They pay staff minimally so their pockets can get bigger, they pay their taxes in places like Luxembourg… they're not paying into the system. Staff then have to claim benefits to top up their wages whilst they make billions in profits”.  Speaking briefly to 25 year old Martin he felt empathy for migrants coming to the UK, saying “they’re looking for a better life”, but that view tended to be in the minority with actual residents in the town.   

There’s a generational anger from some of the young people who feel older people have “f*cked  up massively”. Ashley mentioned despite being a Farage fan that “it was the older generation that wanted Brexit to happen…. I work in hospitality and a lot of our produce comes from outside the UK. A box of tomatoes that used to be £4.99 went up to £16.99.” Sandra in her fifties seemed to have empathy for the younger generation, showing concern for the lack of opportunities for young people, recognising that things are much harder in many ways. “I feel sorry for young people, especially young lads…I know a young lad who wants to be an electrician and can’t get an apprenticeship. He just wants to be able to train to get a proper job”. 

The flip side of a strong enthusiasm for someone who appears to finally “speak for the people” was downright apathy. It was in fact impossible to find anyone, young or old whilst we trailed the beach who was enthusiastic about any of the other parties. Many did not see the point in voting at all. Bar staff worker Jack says of politics “I’m registered to vote, but i just don’t know who to vote for… It's all too many words and I don’t really like having to listen. He [Farage] keeps coming into the pub and it’s irritating that I have to deal with that in my workplace.” He does admit however that Farage is “quite funny to be honest though.” His entertainment value with those not looped into party politics much, appears to have some resonance. 

30 year old chip shop worker Aridanna is originally from Romania and is not registered to vote. “I’ve never voted in my life, not even in my own country of Romania.” She is concerned about the cost of living, saying “everything is increasing in price: insurance, rent, food. This isn’t London but the renting prices here are so high”. She said if there were policies being offered that would make a significant difference to her life then she might consider voting. Her colleague 29 year old Aśka bluntly says “we think it [voting] doesn’t change that much really. There’s no point so we just get on with our lives.”

It seems the picture in Clacton is mixed amongst young people. Whilst there is support for a strong man like Farage, it seems less potent than just a general "a plague on all your houses" sentiment. It's likely Labour will capture the biggest majority of the youth vote in this election, but some of these conversations could be an indication for how youth politics may shift further rightward in the next 5-10 years. Progressive politicians and left wing movements can’t be complacent; they will have to fight to keep young people on board. 

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Last Update: July 02, 2024