Mon, Oct 06, 2014 - Page 5 News List

Seaside resort set to make waves in British by-election

AFP, CLACTON-ON-SEA, England

A couple walk along Clacton Pier in Clacton, England, on Friday.

Photo: AFP

The coastal resort of Clacton could trigger a sea change in British politics on Thursday by voting the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) into office for the first time.

The by-election comes ahead of the general election in May next year, and would propel this quiet community fronted by amusement arcades, ice-cream stands and fish-and-chip shops, to national prominence.

“I think I’ll be voting UKIP,” said Joe, 78, an ex-Londoner sat on the seafront with his wife, one of many elderly couples enjoying the fall sunshine on the promenade.

“I really do think it would shake things up. We’re pretty happy but I wouldn’t mind a change,” said Joe, who voted for the Conservative Party at the last election in 2010.

The southeast England town’s sitting member of parliament, Douglas Carswell, defected from British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party to UKIP in August.

A eurosceptic to some, an opportunist to others, Carswell decided to resign his seat and fight a by-election for his new party — and many in the town seem ready to swap allegiances with him.

Pitching to voters disenchanted with politics-as-usual, the anti-mass immigration UKIP think Clacton could be fertile ground for building a bridgehead before the general election.

Clacton’s UKIP campaign office is buzzing with activity as town residents and campaigners drop by — in marked contrast to the Conservative Party headquarters six doors down on the other side of Station Road.

Polls show Carswell between 32 and 44 percentage points ahead.

Sat on the pier reading a magazine, Mrs Harris, a retired lady, said she would be voting for Carswell.

“I admire him for doing it, I think he’s got a lot of guts,” she said. “I’m not satisfied with the government. I thought I’d give UKIP a chance because I like what they’re saying.”

Clacton is 95km northeast of London.

Its tourist destination days began in 1871 with the construction of its pier, still the Essex town’s centerpiece. It drew holidaymakers and day-trippers from London.

However, cheap holidays to Spain ended the 1940s to 1980s boom years.

The area has 40 percent unemployment, ranking it 29th out of 632 constituencies in the UK, and is the town with the second-highest number of elderly residents in the country, with 31.3 percent of the population 65 or over.

The constituency is 97.4 percent Caucasian.

At the UKIP office, street maps are pasted on the wall, every road in the constituency colored in with different fluorescent marker pens, showing how many times they have been canvassed.

“We’re on the cusp of something here,” UKIP campaign assistant Daryll Pritcher said.

Dozens of placards are stacked up and there are four shelves of UKIP merchandise for sale like badges, caps, wristbands, ties, mugs and pens.

Strolling about the town center with an ice cream, Carswell, 43, is stopped by constituents.

“You’ve definitely got my support, always have,” a woman in a mobility scooter told him.

Others stopped him to debate immigration — one of UKIP’s central themes — while a roofer wanted to know exactly what he had been doing for the last 10 years.

“There are some areas in the constituency where people feel they’ve been left behind,” Carswell told reporters. “With the level of political disaffection with the big corporate parties, there’s a lot of fertile ground for a new party that comes along with a very different message. I think that the country is up for change.”

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