Like many other Thanet residents I watched tonight’s programme on Channel 4 regarding Mary Portas and her efforts to regenerate Margate High Street. The first comment by a random passer by summed up the job in hand. The crew asked a young lady her view about the town and the reply was “Margate’s Shit”.
Interestingly, the film followed her train journey to Margate and her arrival for the first time showed a typical rainy summer’s day and the obligatory shot of Arlington House which Mary took umbrage with describing it as a run down 60’s concrete tower block without mentioning the landlord who has for decades reneged on their agreement in the lease to keep maintenance up.
There followed a shot of Mary at the top end of the High Street mentioning something about drug dealers at the top of the multi storey car park. I can only assume she went up there to obtain some after realising the task she was undertaking although this wasn’t confirmed in the film. However she then proceeded to tell us that there are 28 empty shops out of 108. I am amazed as it seems like there are far more than that figure boarded up.
The next segment showed Mary outside of the old Woolworths before a Town Team meeting. She alluded that Woolworth’s closing down started the decline of the High Street but that shows lack of research. As any local knows it was the creation of Westwood Cross that drove the final nail in the High Street, funnily enough in the whole show Westwood wasn’t mentioned once!
In another clever bit of editing, the film show one of Margate’s finest shouting at Mary across the street in a neanderthal fashion before cutting to a nice cosy coffee between Mary and Iris Johnson. Iris did make me chuckle when she said that she wished to get away from the country bumpkin image of Margate right after the idiot shouting on the street.
Then we meet Billy who owns the Kiss Me Quick shop incidentally not located on the High Street but in the prime location on the seafront in the old town who apparently acts as the go between Mary and the Town team who were refusing the camera crew access to the meeting at Woolworths. As a reward for smoothing things over the rest of the show is dedicated to Billy, his shop, his hardships and the regeneration of his shop.
It was amusing to see Mary with a copy of the Thanet Watch, I didn’t get the impression she liked that publication very much, can’t think why. And lo and behold, Thanet’s very own dodgy estate agent Mr Painter appears swallowing Mary’s suggestion for an ‘inland pier’ A cursory 30 seconds was given over to the only result that is still here the poportunity pop-up shop that although is currently undergoing refurbishment but is still trading.
Then the show goes to London with the aforementioned Billy to promote Margate in the east end of all places, where most of the people questioned hadn’t even heard of the town, let alone had a desire to visit! At least our Billy got a trip to the palace and got the chance to pontificate about his childhood which although slightly interesting really didn’t have a place in this show.
Of course a show about Margate wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Tracey Emin who professed that ‘for a dirty weekend come to Margate’ look around the Turner (30 mins at most), visit the shops (if there are any left) and then proceed to copulate for the rest of the time! Maybe Tracey should sell up in London and open up a shop in Margate if she cares about the town as much as she proclaims.
Mary then managed to speak to Southeastern rail who kindly gave her 500 free return tickets from London to Margate and offered limited amounts of £10 return tickets as well to aid in the Inland Pier concept.
So we proceed to the big day of the inland pier. Mary was shown on a train she claims was packed with people heading to Margate but when she alighted at the other end I could count no more than 15 people that were with the group. I would love to know who had the clever idea of having the inland pier day right bang in the middle of the winter and to top it all and this is comical, Mary attempted to get Chas and Dave down to perform their famous Margate song. She called up Chas who was adamant that Dave wouldn’t do the gig and demanded expenses to come himself!
I do remain somewhat confused though. The show seemed to focus more on Billy and his shop than anything else and as things stand, less than a grand has been spent out of the hundred grand so what lies for the future?
Sadly it seems my prediction in my last blog has been proved correct, UKIP have decimated the mainstream parties in Thanet today gaining 7 out of the 8 seats available including the ex NF member Martin Heale winning in Ramsgate and the ex-tory Roger the dodger Latchford winning in Birchington. More depressingly the only seat won by anyone else went to Labour’s Will ‘Scooby’ Scobie who if his track record is anything to go by will be as ineffectual at county hall as he has been for Margate both in his capacity as mayor and local councillor.
This also reflects the national trend. Obviously and traditionally, half term elections tend to attract the protest voters out and it is even more the case when the conservatives have been up to their usual tricks of feathering their own pockets in power and screwing the less advantaged, the Lib Dems were ruined the minute they got into bed with the tories and abandoned their manifesto promises and the increasingly ineffectual Labour who seem to have lost their direction under Ed Millpede’s tenure.
So, will the emergence of UKIP as a major political force continue? As anyone will recall it was only a few years ago that the far right BNP attracted the protest votes yet this time around have lost their only remaining county council seat. I believe that today’s results should send a very clear message to David Cameron and unless he has a major rethink on policy along with Clegg and Millband then the far right could re-emerge as a political force and that, sadly can only lead us down a very dark and disturbing road.