Clacton by-election: 'genuine excitement' takes hold

Douglas Carswell and Nigel Farage Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Douglas Carswell's defection to UKIP prompted the by-election in Clacton

Voters go to the polls on 9 October in the Essex by-election prompted by Douglas Carswell's defection from the Conservative Party to the UK Independence Party. So what is the mood on the streets?

With a thwack of a driver on the first tee, the contest is under way.

This match between Clacton Ladies and Braintree Ladies is a friendly.

But the conversation amongst the home side at least is about a less than friendly political contest.

Each in their beige sweaters, the Clacton golfers reflect that their home town might be about to make political history.

An MP has never before been elected wearing a UKIP rosette.

Just beyond the fairway, a little over a mile away, is Jaywick. It is the most deprived area in England, according to government figures.

Dirt tracks separate many of the small, single storey houses.

Some are boarded up.

First time voter

A black anarchist flag flutters defiantly above one. But alongside entrenched poverty is an intense pride in the community.

And - here is a sentence I have never written before - there is genuine excitement about this by-election here.

Tina Blows and her husband have just moved in here.

"It'll be the first time I've ever voted," she tells me. Tina is 53.

"I'll be down there just after seven on Thursday, getting hold of the pencil and putting a cross where I want it."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Bruce Douglas-Mann lost the by-election in Mitcham and Morden

Half a century of disengagement shattered by an MP, Douglas Carswell, walking out of one party - the Conservatives - and into another, the UK Independence Party - and putting his decision to a vote.

It is more than 30 years since an MP has swapped parties and actually bothered to check that their constituents endorse it.

The last one to try it - Bruce Douglas-Mann - lost after defecting from Labour to the Social Democratic Party in 1982.

But it feels things will be different here.

Two opinion polls have suggested UKIP could win comfortably.

UKIP performed very strongly here in the European Parliament elections earlier this year.

And research by the doyens of the analysis of all things UKIP - the academics Rob Ford and Matthew Goodwin - suggests that of the 650 seats at Westminster, Clacton is the most fertile of all for a UKIP breakthrough.

'Barrage for Farage'?

Central to the UKIP pitch is being different.

Not like the rest of them.

They trade in the currency of anti-politics and there seem to be plenty of buyers around here.

"David Cameron hasn't got a clue. Ed Miliband, in his early forties, and he hasn't got a clue with life. Life is a book of stories, but he's got a book of empty pages," Ray Leadbetter tells me, a few doors up from Tina.

Swap those apparently empty pages for the bouquets of the pretty town of Frinton eight miles up the coast.

With its yoga classes and literary festival, it couldn't feel more different from Jaywick.

And yet, in the Lock and Barrel pub, those grabbing a lunchtime bite speak in the same language of disillusion - just with a posher accent.

"People there in the little village at Westminster," spits one thoughtful 60-something woman, "take far too little notice of what's going on in the rest of the country. It's so obvious to me."

Image caption From left to right: Douglas Carswell, Howling Laud Hope, Tim Young, Dr Bruce Sizer, Charlotte Rose, Giles Watling, Chris Southall and Andy Graham are the by-election candidates

But hang on, say some - if people are ordering political change, not everyone is thirsty.

Jason Winter has just come back home after a few years away at university and detects what he sees as a reactionary, narrow minded outlook tempting some towards UKIP.

What he calls the "barrage for Farage" is not something he'll be joining.

Back in Clacton, one of the busiest spots is the job centre.

"It's hopeless," one 25-year-old dad tells me.

He's articulate, appears up for turning things around, but is worn down by reality.

It's been five months since he's had work.

Just along the street, two retired women chat animatedly in a shop doorway.

I pop over for a word.

"We need a new doctor's surgery. My dog's vets is better than our surgery," says one.

Justified or otherwise, many people here feel conned, abandoned, even ignored - and they have had enough.

The full list of candidates participating in Thursday's by-election, in alphabetical order by surname, is:

Carswell, Douglas - UK Independence Party

Graham, Andy - Liberal Democrats

Hope, Howling Laud - The Official Monster Raving Loony Party

Rose, Charlotte - Independent

Sizer, Bruce Francis - Independent

Southall, Chris - Green Party

Watling, Giles - Conservative

Young, Tim - Labour

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