Riverside Grays. Image: Andy Howell

I’m the Green prospective parliamentary candidate for Mid Sussex 2015; I wasn’t born here though. Life began for me in Thurrock, Essex, in the same hospital where Russell Brand entered the world, a few days later. I still have a lot of family around there and I cannot help but feel saddened by the news that UKIP is popular in those parts. Not only that, but we don’t have a Green candidate in Thurrock and it makes me ask myself if there is any hope for progressive politics in the Thames Gateway.

Its no surprise that UKIP picked the Thanet seaside town of Margate for its Spring conference; Nigel Farage is hoping to take his place in Westminster via the Thanet seat. It’s a mirror image of Thurrock on the other side of the Thames. People are angry there too, they feel they’ve been neglected and its time for change. I watched ‘Meet The UKIPpers’ on TV and like Thurrock, everything is pinned on the big nasty: ‘immigration’. Sort that out and everything will return to how it was…

To understand why UKIP is doing well in these Thames Estuary towns its important to look at some history in order to understand the present. Thurrock was very much an industrial area; my father worked at Tilbury docks and then you had the Coryton refinery further along the river. These were major employers in the area for decades, the docks were privatised in 1992 and Coryton went bankrupt twenty years later. Then there’s Mucking Marshes Landfill. For years, London’s waste was shipped down river in barges and dumped near this tiny hamlet where I spent the first eight years of my life. The area feels dumped on, literally.

Working class communities on the post industrial fringes of London have always been politically interesting. Unlike their northern counterparts, they embraced Thatcherism with open arms. With aspirations for a better life, they turned their back on the East End poverty they left behind. Right to Buy meant that they could buy their council home, borrow money secured on that home to start businesses etc. Thirty five years later, youth unemployment is higher than the national average and young people are struggling to afford a home. With the social housing stock depleted, its easy to point the figure at the perceived immigration problem. Where is the anti austerity voice to argue against that?

Will people listen while they feel ‘ignored’, ‘betrayed’, ‘dumped on’. In 2012 Thurrock came last in a Government well being survey.

Yet again, eyes will be on those marginal Thames Estuary seats, just as they were in the 1980s. I only wish that there was a Green candidate to offer an alternative to the right wing pro austerity narrative of UKIP.