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Blackpool has been abandoned

Who will speak for England’s struggling towns?

Rakib Ehsan

Rakib Ehsan
Columnist

Topics Politics UK

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As if things couldn’t get any worse for UK prime minister Rishi Sunak, the resignation of former Tory MP Scott Benton this week has set up yet another by-election. This time, in the constituency of Blackpool South in Lancashire.

Benton was suspended from the Tories last April after being caught in an embarrassing sting operation. Undercover reporters from The Times posed as members of a non-existent investment fund. They filmed him offering to lobby government ministers on behalf of the gambling industry for up to £4,000 a month. Benton’s exit has now triggered a by-election, which is set to take place in May.

The Conservatives have suffered some truly crushing by-election defeats in the past few years. These have been especially painful in those pro-Brexit constituencies where they gained booming majorities in the 2019 General Election, such as Tamworth in Staffordshire and Wellingborough in Northamptonshire. Now Blackpool South threatens to be the Tories’ most embarrassing by-election loss yet.

Blackpool South would be yet another nail in the coffin of the so-called Brexit realignment. In the 2016 EU referendum, the constituency delivered a Leave vote of roughly 70 per cent. It had been a Labour seat since 1997, but was turned Conservative in Boris Johnson’s 2019 landslide victory. Yet no one now expects Sunak to retain it. So what went wrong?

This corner of the north-west has certainly seen better days. Blackpool was once a glamorous seaside town at the heart of Britain’s domestic tourism industry. Now, Blackpool South – one of Blackpool’s two constituencies – is one of the most disadvantaged areas in England. According to the 2021 Census, household deprivation rates are 10 percentage points higher than in the average constituency. A quarter of residents aged 16 and over have no formal qualifications, compared with 18 per cent in the rest of England. And while five per cent of English people said they were in either ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ health, this rose to nine per cent for residents in Blackpool South. In fact, a shocking one in four of Blackpool South’s residents were classified as disabled, compared with 17 per cent for England as a whole.

In other words, Blackpool South is exactly the kind of place that should have been at the heart of the Tory government’s ‘Levelling Up’ agenda. But the promised improvements never came.

It’s not just the Tory government that has neglected places like Blackpool. Britain may be one of the most regionally unequal countries in the industrialised, democratic world, but the modern left – whether in the Labour Party, in the media or among the assorted ‘progressive’ NGOs – has not made fixing this a priority.

The left has given up on fighting on behalf of the working class and is instead obsessed with identity politics and other niche causes, so it has little to say for places like Blackpool. Fashionable concepts such as ‘white privilege’ simply don’t make sense when applied here. Blackpool South may be 94 per cent white, but there isn’t much privilege to be found. Indeed, the reality of life in these deprived, mostly white towns makes a complete mockery of woke ideology.

Clearly, the people of Blackpool South have been fundamentally let down by all sides of the British political class. Its most recent Tory MP was apparently more interested in lining his own pockets than representing his constituents. And while Keir Starmer may claim to have fundamentally changed his party since he wrested control from woke Corbynistas, Labour nevertheless remains in thrall to identity politics and is largely disconnected from actual working-class concerns. While Reform UK continues to register decent poll ratings – especially in the north of England – it’s still unclear whether the fledgling party would be able to undertake a massive task like rebuilding deprived Blackpool. Its Thatcherite leadership could end up being just as aloof as the two main parties.

Blackpool South is the definition of left-behind. And sadly, the British political establishment doesn’t really seem to care. The people of Blackpool deserve so much better.

Rakib Ehsan is the author of Beyond Grievance: What the Left Gets Wrong about Ethnic Minorities, which is available to order on Amazon.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics UK

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