Last Thursday, 9th October, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), won its first parliamentary seat. The winning candidate was Douglas Carswell, who shortly before the by-election had defected from the Conservative party (here). I’m not going to bang on about UKIP, because readers of this blog will be well aware what my thoughts will be. Instead I will try to give a French perspective on it all; and bear in mind that in the Front Nationale, France has their own version of right wing, bigoted a-holes. The following English translation is from a piece in Le Monde, one of the major French newspapers. The press in France very much tow the establishment line, and I think I can safely say that Le Monde is on the left side of things. The original article is titled A Clacton-on-Sea, le UKIP surfe sur la misère…
In Clacton-on-sea, the UKIP prospers on misery.
It’s hardly believable at first glance. How reality can be so close to a grotesque caricature? On Pier Avenue, a stoned tramp totters by an old, toothless chap hunching over his Zimmer. Over the almost deserted wharf, rows of tawdry fruit machines wobble in the beat of ancient disco tunes interspersed by blaring ads for retirement houses. In the Jaywick quarter, shabby bungalows shelter, on the seashore, the outcasts of the English economic surge, over a background of marine breeze and seagull chirps. Welcome to Clacton-on-Sea, the seaside resort north of London where nobody spends their holidays anymore since the 80’s. The most hoary and most forlorn English town, center of the constituency which elected Thursday the first MP of the UKIP, an anti-european and xenophobic party.
Douglas Carswell, aged 43, has been ruling over this town, torn between poor retired and disgraced young people, for ten years. This charismatic MP, elected in 2005, has tantalized the party of the PM David Cameron when it announced, August 28th, that he would resign his charge and wholeheartedly join, together with his supporters, Nigel Farage’s UKIP, thereby causing a new election. Comfortably confirmed by 60% of the votes, his triumph represents a perilous precedent at eight months of the general elections.
Matter of fact, it is difficult, in the streets of Clacton, to find a pedestrian that does not vote for Carswell. “He’s unlike any other politician. He tackles our problems,” explains Bryan Marshall, 37 years old, a security officer with decayed teeth, who sees in “immigration and indue claims for social allowances” the major evils plaguing his town. “The flow of Romanians
and Poles who overcrowd the place just to draw on the dole,” adds Peter Even, about sixty, wearing a tracksuit. Hurry-scurry, one blames the EU “that funnels the English money”, the potholes never fixed, “the politicians who have forgotten us”, the street lightning that goes off every day between midnight and 4 am and increases nocturnal fears.
Right in front of the station, in his brand new GQ, the MP handles the gaggle of journalists with the quietness and authority of a general on the field. A photo of Gandhi, inviting the watchers to put words and acts in accordance, stands as a foil amidst various maps of the constituency highlighted with fluorescent markers. If one dares to relate the UKIP to the French “Front national”, Douglas Carswell chokes: the comparison seems “wrong, offending and lazy” to him. Ultraliberal, he doesn’t expect much from the State and plaids for a “radical localism”. “I’m neither a warmonger nor a protectionist. I love McDonalds, modernity and free trade.” Nativism? ”A trash concept, particularly when it consists in rousing people to fight against each other in order to be elected. No country can win without immigration,” he brags, while he still demands that “the government chooses who can ingress and who must egress. The UK is a big nation, but it is ruled by a clique of Conservatives, an oligarchy that cannot be punished when they are derelict in their duties,” says the defector who believes “passionately” that the UK must quit the EU.
This straddling stance, betwixt ultra-liberalism and the defense of Clacton’s indigents – eking out their lives on pensions or allowances – does not seem to nag the local population. “People follow Carswell like sheep,” dares a seventy years old, conservative-friendly man, speaking anonymously. “I dislike the EU, but I despise what the UKIP upholds, that populism which reeks of Marine Le Pen [the leader of the French National Front]. Carswell has canvassed the town, unfortunately, and I don’t see how he could be defeated.”
Back on the shore, the calicos of the UKIP candidate have blossomed above a rundown hotel. His conservative adversary, Gilles Watling, formerly a sitcom actor, has a more lukewarm position on Europe, recalling how much the EU represents in Britain’s economy. But, he notes, especially targeting the eurosceptics, that only the Conservatives have promised a referendum on the exit of the UK from the EU. ”Douglas is quite a local figure. People vote for him, rather than for his party,” he puts forward, trying to comfort himself.
Indeed, Mr Carswell had gained popularity as a Tory MP, constantly badgering for greater local powers, so as to recruit more practicians or hinder the settlement of families living on the dole. He had his hour of glory when he pinned a thief against a wall and congratulated the police on Twitter for rushing in. In some building entrances, stickers with his face show the motto: “I help you to fight crime.”
A huge building stands right in downtown Clacton: the former theater “Century”, now transformed into the “Gala bingo”. Inside, pervaded in a rancid odor, a few old ladies spend the afternoon in a vast and almost empty playroom. Without even looking at each other, they listen to a recorded voice that drones on and on the various figures they check on their bingo cards. Outside, a bevy of young unemployed slouch against the walls. A tattoo salon neighbors a wheelchair shop. In Clacton, the UKIP has found its promised land.