27th January 2007 to 31st March 2007The photographs in this exhibition were all taken in and around the new town of Basildon in Essex between July and December 2005. The photographs represent the perspective of the photographer and consequently, do not (and cannot) represent a definitive portrait of the town and its inhabitants.
Basildon achieved nationwide notoriety on Thursday 9th April 1992 at 11:22pm when it re-elected Thatcherite MP David Amess. Many analysts saw this as an early sign that, once again, Labour had failed to oust the Conservative Party from power. From this moment the residents of the town or, Basildon Man as the populous became collectively known, were seen “as a barometre for the mood of the nation: swift to declare on election night, it is middle England territory, a town dominated by skilled manual workers ? whose values, habits and preferences are believed by both left and right to hold the key of electoral success.”
Basildon is a town situated roughly half way between London and the costal town of Southend. It was the seventh and largest of the new towns planned for the outer London region as part of a massive urban renewal and replenishment programme following the devastation of London during the Second World War. Consequently, most of the towns 160, 000 residents have roots that can be traced back to the Dagenham and East Ham areas of greater London. In almost all cases this migration was voluntary; this is an important fact when thinking about Basildon as most residents regard the increase in their standard of living since moving to the town to be as a result of their own efforts and has little to do with the efforts of government (both local and national). This is reflected by the fact that 73% of the towns population label themselves as working class. However, the aspirations of Basildonians are not to be bounded by their class. Indeed, according to Eric Moonman, Basildon’s longest serving Labour MP, “People thought that there was something to aspire to in Basildon. They could do more, better and faster. It was like a little piece of America in Essex”.
Staying true to form, in the 2005 election Basildonians sent Labour MP Angela Smith back to Westminster with a severely reduced majority. As with most of the country the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats gained as did, rather worryingly, the British National Party who, on the first time standing, gained 2,035 votes, just under half that gained by the Liberal Democrats. Thus, Basildon has confirmed its position as an important bell-weather district. Furthermore, at a time when the health of Britian’s democracy is being hotly contested it is important to note that in a 1997 survey 57% of people from Basildon felt that no political party adequately represented them. This statistic seems to go hand in hand with the town’s lack of a coherent town-wide community identity.
* quotes are taken from ‘Basildon: Mood of the Nation’ by DEMOS – www.demos.co.uk