Election blues in UK seaside hotbed of euroscepticism

CLACTON-ON-SEA, UNITED KINGDOM (AFP) - Having voted for Labour, the Conservatives and then the eurosceptic UK Independence Party (Ukip), voters in a faded seaside town are running out of places to turn in Britain's upcoming general election.

Since its golden age in the 1960s, Clacton-on-Sea in the south-eastern English county of Essex has struggled to reinvent itself, a decline witnessed by 77-year-old John.

"There use to be lots of hotels in Clacton, but they are all bedsits now," he told AFP on the terrace of a fast-food restaurant.

The pier is "dead" in winter, he said, but "in the summer, you'll find lots of eastern Europeans working there," added the former delivery driver, who moved from London 10 years ago.

Despite supporting Labour for most of his life, John went against party policy in the 2016 referendum, voting to leave the European Union, believing Britain "can do better on our own".

'London Mentality'

The pensioner is typical of many of the town's residents, according to Nigel Brawn, head of communications for the wider district of Tendring.

Brawn explained that town has welcomed hundreds of pensioners who could no longer cope with the cost of living in the capital, an hour-and-a-half away by train.

"They bring with them the immigration issue; they felt it was a huge issue in London and they've still got that mentality. But it's not such an issue here," he added, pointing out that only 4 per cent of the town's population are immigrants.

He believes the perspective of immigration is why the town voted 69 per cent in favour of Brexit, compared with 52 per cent nationally.

In 2014 the Clacton constituency elected Douglas Carswell, Ukip's sole MP, who has since resigned from the party and will not stand in the June 8 vote.

"To be frank with you, minorities mostly won't find a job here," said Sri Lankan-born Ramasamy, who opened his own grocery store after being unemployed for several months.

"They don't want to waste their time in the place, that's why you don't find many minorities here."

'Not Favourite'

He said Ukip's success in the area was down to the figure of Carswell, who defected to Ukip from the Conservatives, more than to anti-immigrant feeling.

"He is popular here, wherever he goes, it's that simple," Ramasamy told AFP.

"When he was in the Conservatives, he got the vote, when he went to Ukip he got the vote. Even if he went to Labour then he'd still get the vote."

London lawyer Paul Oakley will stand for Ukip this year, but only after a chaotic selection process.

"People in Clacton have voted for a Ukip MP twice, I don't see any reason why they wouldn't vote for the Ukip MP for the third time," said party leader Paul Nuttall, although the candidate himself is less confident.

"I'm not the favourite, the favourite is the Conservative candidate," Oakley conceded to AFP.

He admits to having "no links with the constituency," having being parachuted in from the capital.

In a nearby cafe, anger over the European Union was as raw as ever among two party supporters.

"We are talking about Brexit. What has happened in that year? Nothing!" said 82-year-old Joan Wrigley, sitting next to her husband who was proudly wearing a Ukip badge.

"We are still paying vast amounts of money into the EU." .

'Broken promises'

In the neighbouring town of Jaywick - "the most deprived area in the United Kingdom" according to official statistics - Barbara explained why Ukip appealed to so many locals.

"People were disillusioned by the Conservatives and Labour, so they wanted something new," the charity worker told AFP.

However, she believes that the party will suffer next month.

"They didn't give us what they promised," she said. "They promised to regenerate the area, and that hasn't happened."