UK’s candy floss election: don’t let AMR fall out of view

Candy floss, bacon butties, kiss-me-quick hats and seaside piers are hallmarks of Britain’s Victorian seaside resorts. For generations, Brits have gone to the seaside with their buckets and spades, built sandcastles with the kids and optimistically eaten ice creams under grey skies. Every year Britain’s politicians party in those same seaside resorts: spin and candy floss. In his finely observed account of coastal Britain, Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson caught the gist of these coastal communities.

Looking back at this week’s latest outbreak of election fever; the UK General Election, the British seaside spoke to its horizon. From John o’ Groats to Land’s End, the East coast voted 70% Conservative, while the West coast voted only 40% Conservative (X2 =12.17, p < 0.001). Could this have something do with the communities on the East coast looking out over the North Sea and the English Channel to EU neighbours, while the West Coast looks over Ireland to the more distant Americas?

But what about the candy floss resorts themselves: places where you can rely on proprietors of seaside boarding houses to speak their mind. Well, in the 2017 election mainland towns that are still blessed with a pier in England were overwhelmingly Conservative; 27 of the 33 (81%) available for assessment, compared to the one of six (17%) with piers in Scotland and Wales. You don’t need sophisticated stats to tell you that the Welsh and Scottish seaside resorts have a different outlook. But for those that worry about numbers, it is a significant difference (X2 = 7.67, p < 0.01). A pairing of maps makes this spatial correlation clear.

Seaside piers and 2017 UK election results

And here’s another piece of statistical candy floss: the number of parliamentary seats now held by Conservatives (R2=0.07) and Labour (R2=0.999) both correlate closely with the number of seaside piers per country within the UK (p=0.015 and 0.003, respectively).

So what on Earth has this to do with drug resistant infections and antimicrobial resistance (AMR)? If you’ve read this far, you’re likely to remember that the UK has led the global effort to get AMR on the political agenda. Yesterday’s retreat into Britain’s political tribal heartland, and a preoccupation with whether to separate from the EU for a stick of rock or a ball of candy floss, both risk losing the AMR plot. The drug resistant infection maps highlight the major international hotspots for MRSA, NDM1 and so on. The looming AMR crisis facing in health services may not yet be lapping at the edges of the UK’s seaside communities. But a loss of major groups of antibiotics could make a dose of sea air and a fat full of candy floss about as effective. If you take a look at the heat map for antibiotic prescribing in the UK’s coastal towns, many are doing their level best to catch up with the AMR profile of the major urban centres. These communities have yet to learn how to avoid making their antibiotic yesterdays turn into their drug resistant infection tomorrows.