Elections: Essex Man switches allegiance

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Indy Politics
THE image of Essex Man as stubborn, hardworking and materialistic is not a myth, local politicians agreed yesterday. Some were still reeling from the blow they had been dealt in Thursday's county council elections, writes Marianne Macdonald.

The anger in the Tory heartland of Chelmsford and Basildon was spelt out in the result: the Conservatives lost 25 seats, down from 57 to 32. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats doubled their number to 32 and Labour gained 10 to reach 33. Essex County Council is now hung, with seats almost evenly divided.

The people of Essex had struck back in protest at the loss of their jobs in London, the collapse of their small businesses and the repossession of their homes. In the last three years unemployment in the county has almost trebled to 66,000.

The strength of feeling took even the Liberal Democrats, who had been expecting a positive swing, by surprise.

'Essex men and women have a uniqueness: a fundamental belief that everything is greener in somebody else's garden. They worked hard to reap rewards in the Thatcher years. Now they feel let down,' Beverly Barton, who trebled her majority for the Liberal Democrats in the Grays Thurrock ward, said.

Bill Archibald, leader of the Labour group on the council, said: 'They saw Thatcherism as an ideal way of life. They got what they wanted. Now, judging from the results today, they have realised the dream couldn't last.'

The Conservatives were brittle in defeat. One thing was clear to them: the vote was not a reflection of local policies. 'People on the doorstep blamed the recession. What they didn't understand is that every major industrial country in the world is suffering the same way,' Peter Martin, leader of the Tory group, said.

But Mrs Barton said: 'If Essex turns then all kinds of alarm bells should be ringing in Westminster.'