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 ..."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power