A UKIP geography lesson

In Nigel Farage’s local pub, there are no Ukip activists, ‘just friends’ | Politics | The Observer

This “sketch” appears next to a large feature on UKIP and their plans to target northern England in the upcoming general election, and allows Farage to make some dubious claims about “rural” England and the attitudes of the people who live there, based on his “village pub in Kent”. The pub in question is the George and Dragon in Downe, the village best known as the home of Charles Darwin, when he wasn’t out sailing around South America on the Beagle, and claims:

Farage’s persona as an ale-drinking man of the people appears uncontrived, and the drinkers at the George are happy to serve as a weekly informal focus group.

They can also be deployed as firepower in Ukip’s perpetual battle against metropolitan liberalism. Last year on the subject of gay marriage, Farage said: “The division between city and rural is absolutely huge. In my village pub in Kent they are just completely against.”

A brief look at the map shows that Downe’s “rural” credentials are rather superficial. Downe has a BR postcode and is in the London Borough of Bromley. While Bromley kept its status as part of Kent for postal purposes in the big local authority shake-up in the 1960s, it’s no longer administered as part of Kent but as part of Greater London and this has not changed in any subsequent local authority reform. Furthermore, Bromley (with the exception of some of the areas further to the north-west, like Anerley and Penge) is a very wealthy part of London; it is a large expanse of suburbia full of large houses and pretty parks, and the Conservatives have had overwhelming control over the local council in every election since 2002 (in 1998, they were the biggest single party but the council was controlled by a Lib Dem/Labour coalition). As for Downe itself, a brief search for property there reveals that you can currently have yourself a two-bedroom semi in Downe High Street for £420,000. That’s expensive, even by London suburban standards. (And there is no train station anywhere near Downe, and two bus routes, both hourly, so it’s not an ideal commuting location unless you have a car, or a few.)

So, you can’t really judge a “man of the people” by how he performs in Downe. It’s not representative of anywhere, not even Bromley or Kent, which is a fairly prosperous county with a lot of commuter towns but it has its pockets of deprivation also. Downe (even if you consider it Kent, which it is not) is not one of them. It’s a pocket of extreme wealth in a very wealthy part of a wealthy city.

Image source: OpenStreetMap. You can adjust the scale using the slider on the left.

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