Visiting UKIP-Town

On Thursday, Clacton-on-Sea is likely to become the first UKIP-ruled town in the country.

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06 October 2014, 12:20pm

Update: 10th of October 2014 - UKIP candidate Douglas Carswell won the by-election in Clacton on Thursday, with 21,113 votes. The second placed Conservatives got 8,709 votes. The result was declared early on Friday morning. VICE visited Clacton in the week leading up to the by-election. The following is a report published as Clacton was on the brink of delivering the first UKIP MP to Parliament.

Clacton-on-Sea is about to become UKIP-ville. In August, local MP Douglas Carswell jumped ship from the Conservatives to join Nigel Farage's party, sparking a by-election. On Thursday, the by-election takes place and the town looks set to install Carswell as Westminster's first UKIP MP.

Clacton is one of Britain's depressed seaside towns. It was a busy tourist spot until the 1980s, when people started to look to the Costa del Sol rather than Essex's Sunshine Coast for their holidays. The Butlin's camp shut down and took with it much of the jobs and money; today, the tourism trade is at the mercy of day-trippers. Last year, an area near Clacton's once-lucrative pier had an unemployment rate of 54 percent, the fifth highest in the country. Many of the B&Bs now provide emergency accommodation for benefits claimants and it's a popular retirement town for Londoners, who price locals out of the market and then sit around being economically inactive. In recent years, Clacton's mean income has hovered around half the national average.

It's in these eastern coastal towns - Great Yarmouth, Thanet and Rochester are others - that Nigel Farage's UKIP insurgency is gaining the most traction. When I visited Clacton on Saturday, the town was laden with UKIP paraphernalia, its purple and yellow logo visible on almost every street. The million pounds gifted to UKIP by former Tory donor Aaron Banks was being spent on signs in front gardens, wrap-around ads in the local 'paper, lapels for the blazers of campaigners and posters in windows.

As I left the station and looked at the UKIP HQ across the street, a guy called Tristan walked past with a poster. Immigration was on his mind - he'd never voted before and told me he'd never vote Tory, but due to the "200,000, 400,000, 1.5 million" coming in, said he was backing Carswell this time. UKIP's not right wing, Tristan said, because it's not right wing to look after your own.

Virtually the only traces of anti-UKIP sentiment I saw were in the town's main square. On one side, a Green Party candidate was canvassing, while opposite protesters handed out leaflets asking people to "say no to racism". Bob Lambert, who's lived in Clacton all his life, was pretty unhappy at the thought of waking up in UKIP-land on Thursday. "It's always easy to blame someone else, no matter how low you are in the pecking order," he said. "The main parties blame minorities rather than mend what's wrong."

Ex-Labour Party member Malcome Mead had come from Wycombe to warn people about UKIP. "The Labour Party should be here. They're no longer for the working people. A lot of people are very ignorant here and are voting UKIP. They say 'immigration, immigration, immigration' - terrible... Not many people are coming over to us," he admitted.

To be honest, their effort seemed a little despondent. I asked Malcome who he'll be voting for at next year's general election. "I don't know. I'll have to vote Green I suppose."

Down at the seafront, the pier was doing a decent trade in day-trippers pumping 10ps into the machines. But just round the corner were signs of decay - an empty hotel that happened to be covered in Carswell posters, for instance. UKIP's vision is a nostalgic one, harking back to a pre-EU, pre-immigration Britain. It's easy to see why people in places like Clacton would buy into it. Things were much better here 60 years ago.

Just south west of Clacton is the village of Jaywick. Its fine sandy beaches haven't helped it escape from being officially named the most deprived place in the UK. Right on cue, the black clouds hanging over Jaywick emptied their rain as soon as I got there.

The bungalow development was built in 1928 as part of the "plotlands" movement, which sold little strips of land to Londoners seeking respite from the city. People ended up staying all year round and, while other plotlands developments were demolished after the Second World War, Jaywick held on.

Nowadays, it's a place to escape from rather than to. Jaywick tops the Indices of Multiple Deprivation - a kind of league table that uses stats for income, employment, health, disability, crime and living standards to figure out the best and worst places to live in the country.

It no longer attracts Londoners who can afford a little taste of paradise by the sea, but retirees and benefits claimants who can't afford to go anywhere else. It only got mains sewerage in the 1980s. Some of the roads are private and not maintained by the council. In an area this poor, that means that they're falling apart. In the Brooklands estate, at the west end of Jaywick, a lot of the houses have been abandoned, and some of those have been burnt out. Most of the shops have closed down and are slowly rotting.

In London, until everything gets totally gentrified, poverty lives beside wealth, making the experience of living in the city a diverse one. Jaywick, on the other hand, feels like a concentration of bad luck and grim prospects. There were no office blocks or better residences to aspire to, envy or throw bricks at - just abandoned buildings reminding people that things haven't always been this bad.

Alan Olford, the chairman of the Jaywick Action Group, invited me into his house, which had Douglas Carswell signage in the windows. As a UKIPer of 15 years, he said he was voting to get out of Europe. He believed that pretty much everyone in the area was voting for his party. "They're all fed up, for the simple reason that all the London boroughs are pushing all their immigrants and stuff like that down into Jaywick.

"I've been coming to Jaywick since I was that high," he continued, putting his hand a couple of feet from the floor. "In fact, I was born in Jaywick. I've noticed it go down and down and down and down, because nothing is ever spent on Jaywick. They think a penny spent on Jaywick is a penny wasted, so they spend it elsewhere... We used to have someone clean the promenade and empty the bins but the chap who used to do that has been taken away."

Down the road at a café decked out in UKIP purple and yellow, people were cagey about talking to me. They were upset that their area was only ever paid any attention because it's a dive. Despite the problems, they were proud of their community but it didn't take much for the place to erupt into political discussion, with people shouting over each other to reel off a barrel role of tabloid complaints. Immigrants and money being spent on foreign aid topped the list. Then they moved onto more parochial issues - the street lights are switched off at midnight to save money, they said, making comparisons to the £500,000 recently spent building the "Taj Mahal of toilets" in Frinton, the comparatively affluent town to the north of the constituency.

Was everyone here voting UKIP? "Definitely," they said. "Too bloody right." They claimed that the by-election had brought Conservative and Labour Party reps to Jaywick for the first time in 20 years.

Some of the people I met in Jaywick probably have more in common than they'd like to admit with economic migrants. Neither group are doing particularly well in the deprivation stakes. But it was easy to see why UKIP's narrative is so seductive here. Their arguments took on a new meaning among Jaywick's burnt-out shacks. The appeal of the idea that the country should "look after its own people first" is obvious somewhere that manifestly hasn't been looked after.

How Douglas Carswell, a toff who has already been the place's MP for several years, will help the people I met is anyone's guess. As ever, beyond EU and immigration UKIP don't seem to have any policy positions that they will actually admit to. In any case, it seems that in Jaywick, more than anything UKIP represent a generalised shout into the wilderness for attention - a cry for help from a place lacking routes out of its predicament.

This copy was amended at 3.30PM on Monday, October 6th due to an innaccuracy regarding the by-election date.

@SimonChilds13 / @owebb

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