A by-election threatens to put the decaying resort of Clacton-on-Sea back on the map for all the wrong reasons.
The town’s Tory MP Douglas Carswell sparked a political crisis by defecting to Ukip last month.
Much of the constituency is made up of well-to-do retired people in villages such as Frinton-on-Sea. But beyond the vast golf course that sprawls to the south of Clacton town is Jaywick, the poorest small district in Britain.
Holiday chalets largely abandoned after a flood in 1953 have become homes to people too poor to go anywhere else.
There are unpaved streets and burned out dilapidated shells of buildings.
Tory Matthew Parris wrote about Clacton in the Times last weekend in a piece full of sneering contempt.
The politicians have given up on the people who live here—so they’ve given up on the politicians too.
Jaywick resident Donna insisted, “I don’t really do politics. I don’t vote.”
But she had a lot to say about the problems facing people there. “They should deal with proper issues, like the elderly,” she told Socialist Worker. “And children—you don’t see a lot for kids to do around here.
“You don’t have bins, you just have to chuck the bags out in front of the house. We don’t know why.
“Some of the roads are disgusting—mine is so bumpy it’s hard to get the buggy down. But if people want them repaired they have to pay for it themselves.”
Unemployment is high—officially 9.7 percent, compared to England’s average of 7.8 percent. The total number of working age adults not in work or education is even higher—41 percent, compared to the national average of 29 percent.
People who are disabled or insolvent are more likely to end up here.
Indeed, care for the elderly or disabled is the biggest source of jobs, particularly in the off season.
Retired teacher and former Labour councillor Charlie Nemo told Socialist Worker, “It can seem like the busiest workplaces are where the government sends people on its schemes. People get sent to pick up litter in the graveyards or risk losing their benefits.
“It’s at the end of the train line from London, and it can feel like people are just sent to the end of the line and left there.
“All the big hotels are run down now, and they are cheap places to send people. In the late 1990s there were a lot of refugees sent here.
“The schools weren’t very receptive to them, and there were problems getting the doctors to see them.
“There was a lot of hostility to them, and this isn’t where any of them wanted to be. Now they are gone—and the hotels are still empty.”
Mike Le Cornu is a local campaigner in the National Pensioners’ Convention. He told Socialist Worker, “People are in a really difficult position and can find themselves very isolated.
“We’re campaigning against threats to our bus pass, but even with it there’s always the danger that bus companies won’t bother with the routes that are less profitable.
“Then care is being cut, meals on wheels are all being cut, everything’s being cut.”
Polling by Tory strategist Lord Ashcroft suggests that 45 percent of people who voted Labour in 2010 in the Clacton constituency are now intending to vote for Ukip.
“Nothing good has come from the coalition,” said Charlie. “But Blairism was pretty bad for the area too. For example in care, privatisation means the wages are low and the services badly managed. Labour started that.
“There was a big Lib Dem vote after the Iraq war, and that will all go to Ukip or Tory now. But this is a working class area, it should be a natural Labour area.”
Many are looking to Labour to offer an alternative to Ukip and the Tories at the by-election.
But its candidate Tim Young is a Blairite who pushed through cuts as leader of Colchester council.
Into this political vacuum have stepped racists who want to divert the anger towards immigrants.
Mike said, “Two or three people I know have recently expressed a desire to vote Ukip because of its line on immigration.
“The media have been focusing on immigration and that distracts
from the real reasons we’ve got austerity. It’s very disconcerting to see that among pensioners, people who lived through the war with Nazi Germany and saw where that kind of scapegoating can lead.”
The scapegoating of immigrants has become so central in British politics that its effect is felt everywhere.
But it has a particular purchase in Clacton, where many people have little direct experience of living and working with immigrants to counteract the propaganda.
Another local resident Roy told Socialist Worker “Look at the type of work people do here—some do seasonal work, there’s a lot of microbusinesses, there’s a lot of people who have to travel to London.
“It’s not like everyone goes to work together in one big factory that gives them a common life, a common struggle. And so people are working class but without that sense of a common identity.
“There’s not some deep-seated ideological racism. People know that things aren’t quite right and they don’t quite know why, and the racists use that.”
Charlie said, “The biggest grumble you hear is about the Eastern European workforce. But a lot of that’s perception—there’s not enough work to get a big influx of people.”
Whoever wins the by-election there is a real prospect of an arms race of anti-immigrant racism from all the main parties. That will make the racists and fascists more confident.
But Stand Up to Ukip activists are planning to campaign in Clacton against Ukip.
There is an appetite to oppose the new rise of the right, and to do this it is essential to take on the racism it feeds upon.
But that alone isn’t enough. In Clacton as in so many other places, there is a glaring need for an alternative to both Ukip and the rotten consensus of racism and cuts that has alienated so many people from politics.
Roy said, “The biggest thing has been the political vacuum. People, especially young people, are giving up on the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour. The first thing anyone says is ‘politicians are all liars’.
“So even if someone sincere from Labour comes along and makes promises, people just think ‘oh we’ve heard that before’.
“So when something new comes along it can get a hearing. Here it’s Ukip, but it’s like this in parts of the north where Respect did well.
“If there was a reaction to Ukip here, if people started to stand up in a more left wing way, I think it would get a response.”