Poor schools help Ukip's appeal to the "left behind". Photo: Getty
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How failing schools help Ukip

Schools are getting worse in Great Yarmouth, the second most likely seat for Ukip to gain their first MP next year.

Poor education is one of the strongest determinants of voting for Ukip. Ukip voters are half as likely to have attended university than the population as a whole, and half as likely again to have left school aged 16 or younger.

The Department for Education recently published a list of the best and worst areas for GCSE results, based on pupils getting five grade Cs or above, including English and maths. The three worst schools were all located in East Anglia, the region in which Ukip has gained its best local election results and is targeting a number of seats in the general election. The City of London was the best performing area, with pupils 34 per cent more likely to gain five good GCSEs.

According to Ofsted, schools are only getting worse in Great Yarmouth, which bookmakers regard as the second most likely seat for Ukip to win their first MP next year.

Five years ago Ofsted deemed schools in Great Yarmouth and London to be performing very similarly. Now the contrast is marked: as London schools have improved, so those in Great Yarmouth have deteriorated.

As the following chart shows, the overall picture in East Anglia is little better. Taking Great Yarmouth, Norwich North, and Waveney - three areas that the political scientist Rob Ford highlights as Ukip performing particularly strongly in - 44.3 per cent of pupils today are in schools that Ofsted deem to "require improvement" or be "inadequate", a number that has barely dropped from 46.7 per cent five years ago. In England as a whole, the number has fallen from 38 per cent to 27 per cent while in London the improvements have been the most notable - just 16 per cent of pupils today are in schools that Ofsted deem to "require improvement" or be "inadequate", compared with 29 per cent five years ago.

“We’re left out of everything,” says Matt Smith, a county councillor and Ukip’s parliamentary candidate for Great Yarmouth. “It could be schools, it could be policing, it could be hospitals. Everything seems to boil down to being left out and forgotten. We’re at the end of the line and no one’s interested in us.” While East Anglia's schools remain so poor, such feelings will resonate, and it will remain fertile territory for Ukip.

But the links between failing schools and Ukip may run deeper. As low educational attainment correlates with Ukip support, the struggling schoolchildren of today in Great Yarmouth could end up becoming the Ukip voters of tomorrow.

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

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The TV stars MPs would love to be

Labour MPs dream of being Jed Bartlet.

In my latest book, A State of Play, I looked at the changing ways in which Britain’s representative democracy has been fictionalized since the later Victorian period. With the support of the University of Nottingham, we decided to turn the tables and ask MPs about their favourite fictional political characters. The results are intriguing.

All MPs were contacted, but with only 49 responding – that’s a 7.5 per cent return rate – I can’t claim the results are fully representative. At 22 per cent, women figured slightly less than they actually do in the Commons. But the big difference is in party terms: 71 per cent of respondents were Labour MPs – double their share in the Commons – while just 20 per cent were Conservatives, less than half their proportion in the Lower House. Maybe Conservative MPs are busier and have better things to do than answer surveys? Or perhaps they just don’t take political fiction – and possibly culture more generally - as seriously as those on the Opposition benches.

What is not subject to speculation, however, is that Labour MPs have very different tastes to their Conservatives rivals, suggesting they are more optimistic about what politics might achieve. At 22 per cent, the most favourite character chosen by MPs overall was Jed Bartlet, heroic US President in Aaron Sorkin’s romantic TV series The West Wing. Of those MPs who nominated Bartlett, every one was Labour. Of course Barlet is a Democrat and the series - dismissed by critics as The Left Wing – looked favourably on progressive causes. But it seems Labour MPs regard Bartlet as an archetype for more than his politics. As one put it, he is, "the ideal leader: smart, principled and pragmatic" For some, Bartlet stands in stark contrast with their current leader. One respondent wistfully characterised the fictional President as having, "Integrity, learning, wit, electability... If only...".

As MPs mentioned other characters from The West Wing, the series accounted for 29 per cent of all choices. Its nearest rival was the deeply cynical House of Cards, originally a novel written by Conservative peer Michael Dobbs and subsequently adapted for TV in the UK and US. Taken together, Britain’s Francis Urquhart and America’s Frank Underwood account for 18 per cent of choices, and are cross-party favourites. One Labour MP dryly claimed Urquhart – who murders his way to Number 10 due to his obsession with the possession of power - "mirrors most closely my experience of politics".

Unsurprisingly, MPs nominated few women characters - politics remains a largely male world, as does political fiction. Only 14 per cent named a female character, the most popular being Birgitte Nyborg from Denmark’s TV series Borgen. Like The West Wing, the show presents politics as a place of possibility. Not all of those nominating Nyborg were female, although one female MP who did appeared to directly identify with the character, saying: "She rides a bike, has a dysfunctional life and isn't afraid of the bastards."

Perhaps the survey’s greatest surprise was which characters and series turned out to be unpopular. Jim Hacker of Yes Minister only just made it into the Top Five, despite one Conservative MP claiming the series gives a "realistic assessment of how politics really works". Harry Perkins, who led a left-wing Labour government in A Very British Coup received just one nomination – and not from an MP who might be described as a Corbynite. Only two MPs suggested characters from Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels, which in the past claimed the likes of Harold MacMillan, Douglas Hurd and John Major as fans. And only one character from The Thick of It was nominated - Nicola Murray the struggling minister. 

The results suggest that MPs turn to political fiction for different reasons. Some claimed they liked their characters for – as one said of House of Cards's Frank Underwood – "the entertainment value". But others clearly identified with their favourites. There is clearly a preference for characters in series like The West Wing and Borgen, where politicians are depicted as ordinary people doing a hard job in trying circumstances. This suggests they are largely out of step with the more cynical presentations of politics now served up to the British public.

Top 5 political characters

Jed Bartlett - 22 per cent

Frank Underwood - 12 per cent

Francis Urquhart - 6 per cent

Jim Hacker - 6 per cent

Birgitte Nyborg - 6 per cent

Steven Fielding is Professor of Political History at the University of Nottingham. Follow him @polprofsteve.