Heatwave: but part of the East Anglian coast contains some of England's poorest-performing schools: Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Ukip does well in areas with failing schools

Great Yarmouth, Norwich and Waveney all fall in the area of East Anglia where Ukip recorded its best results in local elections. They also contain some of the country’s worst schools.

Polls show that low educational attainment and a feeling of being “left behind” are common among Ukip voters. A 2013 YouGov survey found that over half of Ukip voters had left school at 16, compared to 37 per cent of all voters. They were also half as likely as the average voter to go to university: just 13 per cent have a degree. This feeling of falling behind could spread to the children of Ukip voters, too: many of Britain’s worst-performing schools are found in the party’s strongholds.

Failing schools used to be concentrated in the inner cities but this has changed. Late last month, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission published findings showing that disadvantaged pupils in inner London are 21 percentage points more likely to achieve five GCSEs, including English and maths, at grade C and above than those elsewhere in England. And this is not just the “London effect”: the report also noted “improvements in other large cities across England, such as Birmingham and Manchester”.

In the past 15 years, efforts to improve education have given priority to big cities, through schemes such as London Challenge and Excellence in Cities. Both academies and the Teach First programme, which encourages top graduates to teach in struggling schools, were designed with the inner cities in mind.

Away from England’s biggest cities, the picture is different. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, recently described pupils in coastal areas as “invisible”. Take Great Yarmouth, a coastal town in Norfolk. Here, 47 per cent of all pupils are at schools that Ofsted describes as “unsatisfactory” or in need of improvement. Five years ago, 33 per cent of pupils attended such schools. Compare this to London, where 16 per cent of pupils are in schools that are either unsatisfactory or require improvement, a fall from 29 per cent in 2009.

Last month, the Department for Education named the areas with the worst GCSE results. The three poorest performers – Great Yarmouth, Waveney and Norwich – are all in East Anglia. In 2013, less than 47.5 per cent of the pupils in these three areas gained five GCSEs, including English and maths, at grade C or above.

The poor quality of state education supports Ukip’s wider argument that outside our cities, large parts of the country have been neglected. “We’re left out of everything,” says Matthew 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.” The Conservative MP for Great Yarmouth, Brandon Lewis, also refers to the sensation of being at the “end of the line”: clearly, the notion resonates.

Such feelings have driven Ukip’s surge in popularity. Great Yarmouth, Norwich and Waveney all fall in the area of the east coast where Ukip recorded its best results in local elections in 2013 and 2014. Ukip gained more votes than any other party in wards in Great Yarmouth in 2013, and it is one of its top target seats for next year’s general election.

The links between failing schools and Ukip may run deeper. If low educational attainment correlates with Ukip support, as Rob Ford and Matthew Goodwin argue convincingly in their book Revolt on the Right, 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.

This article first appeared in the 16 July 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Our Island Story

Getty
Show Hide image

In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser