Bursting The Bubble: What Do The Women Of Boston And Skegness Think About Brexit?

'The poor get poorer and the rich get richer...we need a revolution'

Bursting The Bubble: What Do The Women Of Boston And Skegness Think About Brexit?

by Vicky Spratt |
Published on

Approaching Boston, we hurtle across flat Lincolnshire fields which blur and fizz green and brown through the train’s windows. This area of North East England is like a giant greenhouse; arable land that yields vegetables, cereals and sugar beet, as well as flowers, provide work. Because of the availability of such employment the area has seen an influx of economic migrants in recent years. Lincolnshire has the third highest number of farms per 100 hectares in the country and these farms rely heavily on EU subsidies.

Boston is a C19th market town with a river flowing through its centre which, historically, allowed coastal trade to take exports out and bring imports in. Today, walking from the station the town’s multicultural population is visible. The road leading from the train station into the centre of town is lined with Eastern European supermarkets and restaurants which display menus in three or four languages, sitting alongside Thai, Chinese and Indian restaurants.

According to the 2011 Census, Boston is ‘home to a higher proportion of eastern European immigrants than anywhere else in England and Wales’. Indeed, 10.6% of the town’s 64,600 person population comes from EU countries such as Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Romania. That equates to one in ten people. Perhaps because of, or rather in spite of, this Boston also returned the highest leave vote in last year’s EU referendum with almost 76% of people voting for Brexit.

The area’s Conservative MP, Matt Warman, campaigned to remain in the EU. UKIP have set their sights on Boston and Skegness this election, they’re standing the party’s new leader, Paul Nuttall, in an attempt to unseat the Tories. Whether or not UKIP can succeed we shall see; Paul Nuttall (like his predecessor, Nigel Farage) has tried and failed to get elected several times.

This is a busy town. It’s mid-afternoon and throngs of college students, school kids and professionals of all ages fill the streets. First I encounter Lucy and Katie, both in their early twenties and working as carers. Neither of them voted in last year’s EU referendum. Lucy says this is because ‘she doesn’t see the point in voting for something she doesn’t understand’ but then again, she adds ‘I do think I should vote. I just got a poll card in the post. Sometimes I think one vote isn’t going to make a difference but I also know that it will’.

She’s worried about the outcome of the EU referendum, particularly what it means for the future of travel and the economy but, she says, it’s all ‘too confusing’. Katie agrees, she thinks they ‘make it confusing’, they being politicians. So, if they were going to vote on June 8th how would they vote? ‘Labour’ says Lucy, ‘definitely Labour’ agrees Katie. Why is that? ‘We’re both support workers and from what I’ve seen on the news they want to improve the NHS…and education is a big issue for them’ Lucy says. ‘But’ she adds, ‘they all say this stuff, they’re just competing with each other aren’t they.’


They hope to move to London soon, but what do Katie and Lucy, who have lived in Boston their whole lives, think of the attention that’s been given to immigration here and the arrival of UKIP on the local Lincolnshire political scene? ‘We’ve got Eastern European friends, one of them lives with me. They’re quite worried about it but, to be honest, I don’t think anything is really going to change’ Lucy says, ‘Eastern Europeans here are set up with families and it wouldn’t be fair’ to make political decisions which would cause them huge upheaval she adds. If there was one thing that could make them more engaged in politics what would it be? ‘Pay’ they both say in unison. ‘Minimum wage needs to go up so people can live better’ Lucy says, ‘yes’ adds Katie, ‘especially for support workers.’

Next, we meet Chloe. She’s 25 and works as a footwear specialist in a high-street store. She’s not planning to vote on June 8th either. ‘Definitely not,' she says. Has she ever voted? ‘Nope’. Why? ‘I genuinely don’t think… no matter what politician is elected… that it’s going to impact on my life’. She says ‘politicians only care about making money… what’s in their own bank account’ Are there any issues which she wishes politicians were talking about? ‘Pay’ she says, like Katie and Lucy. Chloe wants to move to Nottingham because she thinks ‘there are more opportunities there than in Boston with the dying high street’. Chloe is disillusioned and says our society is fundamentally unequal, ‘the poor get poorer and the rich get richer’, she says, ‘we need a revolution’.

Chloe, Katie and Lucy say they don’t vote, have never voted and don’t plan to vote in the next election. They’re just three of the many missing millions of women voters in this country. A study carried out by the House of Commons Library at the request of Harriet Harman after the 2010 general election showed that 9.1 million women didn’t turn up to have their say that year. More recent figures, from the Fawcett Society, have estimated that there are around 8million women currently not voting based on 2015’s election turnout.

These figures confirm that there has been a downward trend in the number of women vote and prove that there is a gender gap in politics at grassroots as well as public office level. In 1992, more women (78.2 percent) voted than men (77.2 percent). But that number has been in decline ever since. In 2005 and 2010 there were more male voters than female. 64 percent of women voted in the last general election, compared to 67 percent of men. Next year it will be the centenary of the Representation of the People Act passing and granting married women over the age of 30 the vote for the first time in our country’s history. And yet, many of the young women interviewed in Boston and Skegness by The Debrief do not feel represented by politicians and don’t see their needs reflected in their policies.

Next, we take the train to the end of the line: Skegness. For all that the fish and chips, ice cream vendors, arcades, breathtaking beach view and crazy gold course evoke by way of good old British seaside holidays and this country’s wildly under-appreciated natural beauty, the area around Skegness sea front is not a cheerful place.

People are reluctant to speak to me, more than that they’re suspicious of me. When I do encounter young people who work in the tourist trade here, on an ice cream stall, they’re eager to talk to me and passionate about the town’s past, present and future but their manager won’t grant them permission to be interviewed. ‘He said to tell you to “sod off because you’re a journalist”,’ a 19-year-old textiles student and part time stall worker tells me disappointedly.

It’s a struggle to get anyone to talk. Perhaps understandably, we’ve had an election of sorts every year for the last three years and Boston and Skegness has been a go-to constituency for the media because of the attention lavished on it by Nigel Farage in 2015, the way it voted in the EU referendum and the interest in what that means for the forthcoming election. I approach a young woman working on another seafront stall, ‘absolutely no way’ she says, ‘I don’t do politics. No. Sorry’. I stop for lunch, fish and chips because I’m by the sea and I can’t help it. A young woman serves me, she’s a first-time voter who didn’t think she’d have a chance to vote until 2020. She is really up for talking about the election and says she’s worried about Brexit’. I eat and wait for her to join me at my table for a chat, but she’s disappeared. I get up to pay and ask her manager whether her colleague would be able to chat now. ‘No she won’t, we’re too busy I’m afraid’. The restaurant is half full.

As I make my way back past the arcades and rock shops towards the station I meet Milly, 18, and Lauren, 20. They’re about to go on their first ever foreign holiday together, they’re changing up pounds into euros and headed to the airport for a flight to Magaluf. Lauren is currently working as an estate agent. She says she is really worried about the housing crisis because she ‘sees it from the inside and hardly young people are buying houses.’ Milly is working in a restaurant, she wants to work in a nursery but, she says, ‘it doesn’t pay enough money’. She says her plan is to ‘work in the restaurant, save enough money and then pursue my career choice’. Why do they think so many of their peers are choosing not to vote? ‘I think we need more education in schools says Lilian, ‘I agree with that’ says Lauren, ‘obviously, it’s on the news and everything but we’re not really educated about it.’ If there had been politics lessons at school would they have gone to them, ‘yes, absolutely’ says Lauren. Neither Milly nor Lauren think they’ll be able to stay here, in their hometown, and have the sort of opportunities they want in the future.

By the time we mark the 100-year anniversary of (some) women being granted the vote after furious campaigning by the suffragettes, we’ll know who our new Prime Minister is. We’ll also know more about how Brexit is going to play out, it’s likely we’ll still be weathering the storm but at least we’ll know what that currently nascent storm looks like. Young people overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU when they did turn out to vote, but young people and women are still the demographics which are less likely to vote than their older male counterparts. Perhaps it because they don’t feel confident or knowledgeable as some of the women interviewed here have explained, perhaps it’s disillusionment and, perhaps, it’s also because they do not see themselves reflected in politics. As thing stands on 29% of MPs are women and new statistics from the BBC reveal that in 100 constituencies across the country on June 8th there won’t be a woman on the ballot paper. That means that 7.5 million people won’t have the option of voting for a woman in this election.

A landmark centenary for women’s rights in this country sits on the horizon as an epoch-making decision fades slowly into the past, its results slowly cementing itself as our present and future. When it comes to young women’s place in and shaping of that future it’s clear that we do need a ‘revolution’ in our politics, as Charlotte put it, and a feminist one at that. If young women don't see women at the top of our political system, then how can they conceive of the own place in it.

*Bursting The Bubble is our look at the election through the eyes of our readers around the country, whatever their political affiliations, in an attempt to burst through the social media bubble and see what young women in the UK really think about the state of politics today. *

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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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