Basildon opens its doors to the big guns

Gordon Brown follows Michael Howard into the town they call the nation's barometer

The welcome was warm and came, inevitably, in the shape of an attractive young woman wearing a white mini-skirt and white high heels. The election campaign had arrived in Essex.

Michael Howard shook her hand and strode confidently into Time nightclub, with its glitzy entrance and tacky, flashing wall lights. The Home Secretary was holding court ostensibly to discuss the club's progressive attitude to drug control.

But, given that it was located in Basildon, traditionally the nation's political barometer and a constituency recently abandoned by David Amess, the sitting Tory MP, the suspicion that he was here to woo the electorate was irresistible.

"It is a very important area for us," he admitted. "The whole of Essex is important and I am very confident we can win here. It would be a rash person who said there is nothing that can be done."

But, with the Tories defending a majority of only 1,480 and with Mr Amess hopping over to the safer seat of Southend West, there was little conviction in Mr Howard's voice.

When it was pointed out to him that there were no Conservatives left on the local council, his response was hardly upbeat. "There is no relationship between local elections and Parliamentary elections," he said. "There are countless examples of where we have low representation on the council, but hold the Parliamentary seat."

The mood in Basildon has undoubtedly changed since the Tories swept to victory there in 1992, a victory that heralded the national success hours later. The parties know the importance of the seat - and they both intend to win it.

As if to ram home the point, Gordon Brown, the Shadow Chancellor, rode into town two hours after Mr Howard left and delivered a blistering speech on the betrayal of Basildon Man.

Reminding them of John Major's promise not to increase VAT, he said: "Within a year, that promise had been broken. Tory promise, Tory betrayal." Then he reminded them of similar broken promises on insurance contributions, mortgage tax relief ... in fact, on 22 tax rises.

"Let me tell Michael Heseltine in terms he might understand," he said. "The Tories are taxing us before breakfast, as soon as we turn the heating on, taxing us before lunch and taxing us before dinner. And before you get up the next morning, we're being taxed all over again."

The audience - including a group who had switched from Tory to Labour - lapped it up.

Geraldine Evans, 51, landlady of The Barge in Vange, was typical of the group. "I have never worked so hard for so little in all my life," she said. "What the Coservatives have done has made me very sad. People don't seem to count for much any more - there are people in Basildon earning between pounds 1.80 and pounds 2.20 an hour. I never believed anyone as moderate as myself could vote Labour. But I've looked at their policies and they're closer to my own beliefs."

Tory stock was indeed low last night as Mr Brown savaged the party's performance during his speech to supporters. He drew gasps when he broke the news of Tim Smith's resignation and went further by making fun of the sitting MP's move eastwards.

"I came here hoping to meet David Amess," he said. "There is a courtesy in the House of Commons that when you visit a constituency of a sitting Tory MP you write him a letter - but mine was returned marked `Return to sender. Gone away.' It seems David Amess is the only Tory candidate in this campaign who has moved closer to Europe ..."

News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

Time to stop running

At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?