This also makes the town fashionable in Westminster, where the travails of Britain’s white working class are causing concern. Underscoring how stubbornly they languish, a recent parliamentary study confirmed that poor white British children do worse in school than those of any other group save Romany gypsies. But this fresh attention to the issue is also because it is election season and winning working-class love is, for differing reasons, a preoccupation of all the main parties. For David Cameron’s ruling Conservatives, getting such Britons off welfare and into work is a fiscal and moral mission and a test of Britain’s ability to endure austerity. For Labour, they represent an identity crisis.
Though increasingly drawn from and oriented towards middle England, where most voters reside, Britain’s main opposition still finds its cherished moral authority in a romantic association with the working-class people for whom it was formed. That is why Labour’s unexpected losses to the populist UK Independence party (UKIP) in recent local elections, in hard-up places such as Tilbury, sent the party’s leader Ed Miliband scuttling to Thurrock, the Tory-held marginal in which the town falls. There is now an argument within Labour over how to avoid a repeat of this disaster in next year’s general election, for which Thurrock is UKIP’s number two target seat; some want to ape UKIP with a more populist, especially anti-immigration, message.