A bad day at the seaside

When called by BBC Radio 4 to defend an astonishing piece of invective, headlined ‘Tories should turn their backs on Clacton’, Times columnist Matthew Parris began by pointing out he hadn’t written the headline.

But here was a headline that if anything underplayed the insult to Clacton-on-Sea and the toe-curlingly offensive manner in which the former Tory MP set about the poor people who live there.

“Shops tell you so much,” he wrote after a visit. “Lycra is the textile of choice and I saw not a single woman under 70 in a skirt, still less a dress . . . in Holland & Barrett the ‘Serious Mass Muscle gainer’ came in bucket-sized black plastic tubs at the checkout for the  impulse purchaser.

“There are ten tattoo parlours and no Waterstones  . . . Its voters are going nowhere and it’s rather sad, and there’s nothing more to say. This is Britain on crutches. This is tracksuit-and-trainers Britain, tattoo-parlour Britain, all-our-yesterdays Britain.”

What this torrent of metropolitan snobbery and condescension was leading up to was that Clacton is about to elect Britain’s first UKIP Member of Parliament. There is nothing the Tories can do to stop this and they shouldn’t try because they would have to swing so far to the eurosceptic right that they would lose the support of people in more modern, optimistic places with an eye to the future, like Cambridge.

This is a fair point, although there are plenty who will say it is a recipe for political suicide. But Matthew Parris, whose column can be brilliant, destroyed his own case by the manner in which he made it. And for me, at least, he has wrecked his reputation as as one of our most intelligent and fair-minded commentators.

If you wonder why so many Scots, Welsh and northerners revile the London elite, call them snobs and yearn to get away from them, look no further than Saturday’s Times.