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

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.