As he continues his journey around leave-voting areas, Owen Jones finds that run-down high streets, low-paid jobs and a sense of loss plague South Thanet
• Brexitland: ‘Too many foreigners – way, way too many’
If Britain’s coastal towns simmer with resentment, there’s little wonder: they’ve been the victims of protracted economic decline under successive governments. Like other coastal communities – Blackpool, Rhyl, Skegness and Hartlepool – South Thanet, in Kent, plumped decisively for leave in last year’s EU referendum. It was an opportunity to express a vote of no confidence in a failed status quo. They took it. “Thanet used to be called the Isle of Death,” says 71-year-old Alexandra as she piles shopping into her car in Margate. “That’s where it is really, sticking out like a thumb on the map.” Insecure, low-skilled jobs; a shortage of good quality, affordable housing; some of the highest rates of poverty in Britain: no wonder so many feel abandoned on a geographical extremity. And above all, as pollster Ian Warren puts it to me, a “palpable sense” of loss. “It’s deep, it’s really deep, and it’s serious.”
As part of my journey through the leave-supporting areas, I have come to Brexitland-on-Sea. It is a place of many contrasts. Stand on the harbours of Ramsgate or Margate, and you’re struck by their beauty: the Georgian houses, the little boats bobbing on the sea. Before the age of cheap flights, British families would flock in far greater numbers to towns like this, supporting thriving local hotels and businesses.
Migrants say they feel welcome, but their presence is clearly divisive