Clacton is likely to deliver Ukip its first elected MP. Photo: Getty
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How do we breathe new life into our coastal towns, which are now key Ukip targets?

 Ukip will throw the kitchen sink at coastal towns next year, such as South Thanet, Folkestone and Skegness. How to dodge the purple rosette?

Britain’s economy is recovering faster than any other developed country. These are not the words of George Osborne but analysis from the International Monetary Fund. Unemployment is at its lowest level since 2008, small businesses are set to create nearly 2m new jobs by the end of the year and even housing starts are at their highest number for seven years (albeit from a very low base).

Yet, many people across the country are not feeling the benefits of economic recovery in their back pockets. Polling carried out by Lord Ashcroft in May and September this year found an increase in the number of people saying the economy is recovering from recession (up from 58 per cent to 62 per cent). However, the number saying they feel better off as a result was unchanged at 12 per cent. Interestingly Ukip voters were the most likely to say they thought the economy was still not recovering.

The rise of the purple rosette is of particular concern for Conservative MPs and strategists. The by-election in Clacton may well lead to their first member of parliament since Bob Spink defected from the Tories in 2008, giving the party greater credibility among the voting public. Ukip has stated that they will throw the kitchen sink at specific constituencies next year, notably coastal towns such as South Thanet, Folkestone and Skegness. Labour is also under threat with the party losing its incumbency factor in Grimsby when Austin Mitchell steps down in May. The question for the main political parties is how to prevent a repeat of the anti Westminster/anti Establishment rhetoric that characterised the SNP’s campaign in Scotland. Believe me, Nigel Farage will have been taking notes.

One of the key issues that has to be addressed is the feeling of isolation that many people in these once vibrant towns are feeling. We live in an increasingly interconnected world. Low cost air travel, a globalised workforce and the success of the UK economy has led to a surge of people from across the wold coming to these shores to seek a better life for themselves and their families. According to figures from the Office of National Statistics, net migration into the UK increased by more than 38 per cent to 243,000 in 2013-14. This leads to fears that Britain public services will be overstretched and that ‘British workers’ will be unable to compete with foreign arrivals. Immigration is cited by voters as one of their key concerns and UKIP has played on people’s fears of globalisation. Nigel Farage’s argument that Britain is losing control of its borders resonates with large swathes of people who feel they and their children do not have the skills to compete for local jobs.

Politicians do need to address the elephant in the room. However, instead of talking about limiting the number of people coming to this country (almost impossible to do while being part of the EU), the focus should be on understanding people’s legitimate concerns and addressing them through a focus on training, jobs and wages. This is especially true when it comes to vocational qualifications, an issue that Policy Exchange will be discussing on the Monday morning of Conservative party conference at an event with Skills Minister, Nicholas Boles, the Mayor’s economic adviser, Dr Gerard Lyons and the CEO of Travelodge, Peter Gowers. Attending university was seen as a panacea under the Blair government and whilst it was right to encourage people from all backgrounds to consider the academic route, the focus on university led to technical courses being seen as inferior.

It is encouraging to see this government recognise the important of vocational qualifications through the introduction of the TechBacc, something incidentally Policy Exchange called for at the start of 2013. The government needs to further encourage employers to work closely with FE colleges and Technical Colleges – as well as school leavers and the long term unemployed – to develop training programmes that provide long term career opportunities for young men and women who do not want, or are not suited, to an academic higher education. In areas of the country that feel particularly isolated by the growth of London and other major cities, sectors like tourism, catering and hospitality can provide life changing opportunities for people who don’t feel they have a stake in what the Prime Minister refers to as the ‘global race’.

The economic recovery is something that Britain should be proud of but it is critical that as many people as possible, wherever they live, are given the chance to feel the effects of an outward looking, free market economy through training, jobs and ultimately a secure future. If the Conservatives are able to show people in coastal towns that there is light at the end of the tunnel for themselves and their families, they should be rewarded at the ballot box.

Nick Faith is Director of Communications at Policy Exchange. Policy Exchange and Travelodge will be hosting their fringe event, ‘Unlocking the skills and growth potential of unexploited sectors in the UK economy’, at 10am on Monday 29th September in the Novotel, Birmingham.

Nick Faith is Director of Communications at Policy Exchange

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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era