“Are you the racist?” shouts out 14-year-old Ryan, loudly enough that pretty much all of the shoppers in the small outdoor mall can hear him.
For a moment Douglas Carswell looks slightly panicked. To engage or to ignore? With journalists in tow, neither option is ideal.
He chooses to walk over and talk to Ryan and the gaggle of other children in their school uniforms. “No, I’m not a racist,” he tells Ryan a little sharply. “But are you the one that doesn’t want the Muslims?” chimes in Ryan’s friend. No, insists Mr Carswell. He likes Muslims. “But don’t they behead people?” she asks him. “Well, I certainly hope that’s not what they’re teaching you at school,” he replies, a little testily.
A few minutes later Carswell is on safer territory inside the Frinton Community Association, which is holding its Wednesday Dance Club.
But although the demographics are different, the issue is basically the same. A group of women, sitting out the quick-step, say they like Carswell; think he has been a good MP, but will not vote for him today. “He should have stayed where he was,” says one. “I like Douglas but I can’t vote for that party. It’s not just Europe; it’s the rest of it.”
Ukip gaffes and controversies
Ukip gaffes and controversies
1/18 European elections poster
Party's latest EU election posters branded 'racist' and compared to BNP campaigns
2/18 Farage 'car-crash' interview
Ukip spin doctor forced to intervene as Farage falters in disastrous radio interview
3/18 Neil Hamilton
Picture Exclusive: The year is 1998. The venue is a Springbok Club meeting. The flag is a symbol for white supremacists in South Africa. And the speaker is Ukip’s deputy chairman, Neil Hamilton
4/18 Kerry Smith
Kerry Smith resigned as would-be MP for South Basildon and East Thurrock after it emerged he had mocked gay party members as “disgusting poofters”, joked about shooting people from Chigwell in a “peasant hunt” and referred to someone with a Chinese name as a “Chinky bird”
5/18 Natasha Bolter
Former Ukip member Natasha Bolter was suspected of not having the teaching qualifications she professed to, only days after it was revealed that claims of her having attended Oxford University were also false
6/18 Ukip Calypso song
Mike Reid released a single in praise of UKIP trying to control the UK's borders, only to withdraw the single after being accused of racism for singing in a Jamaican accent
7/18 Janice Atkinson
Janice Atkinson, Ukip's South East chair, pictured by protesters while campaigning in Ashford, Kent with local party chair Norman Taylor
8/18 Ukip cancels Freephone
Ukip cancels Freephone number after protesters repeatedly called to push up costs
9/18 Farage 'car-crash' interview
Mr Farage appeared to be caught out on a number of issues, from Romanian neighbours to people speaking foreign languages on the train
10/18 Ukip employs illegal immigrants
Ukip criticised after European election candidate found employing illegal immigrants
11/18 Magnus Nielsen
Ukip candidate: 'Take away the right to vote to improve election turnout'
12/18 Poster model
A “British builder” portrayed in a Ukip poster accusing EU workers of taking UK jobs turns out to be an Irish actor - aka a migrant worker
13/18 'Arrest protesters'
Ukip called for police to arrest protesters ‘who call us fascists’ ahead of showdown with anti-fascist groups in Brighton
14/18 London Live make-up
Ukip's Nigel Farage reportedly refused to go on London Live 'without professional make up-artist'
15/18 Andre Lampitt
Ukip forced to suspend the "poster boy" of its European election broadcast, after it was revealed he had posted a series of vile racist comments on Twitter
Nigel Farage says he is taking taking legal advice over “outrageous” allegations that he is responsible for more than £50,000 of “missing” EU funding that was paid directly into his personal bank account
17/18 Have I Got News For You
Nigel Farage appears in Have I Got News For You, spends the entire episode being ridiculed over expenses and party 'fruitcakes'
18/18 Anti-gay comments
Local branch chairman for Ukip defends a party's councillor candidate Douglas Denny who called gay people “abnormal” and said he wished “they stop trying to ram it down my throat”, all while discussing whether the word “sodomite” should be used
Despite this, it is almost certain that Carswell will win this by-election, which he himself called after his defection to Ukip in August.
But what is interesting is that his motives for leaving the Conservatives are not necessarily the reasons why people will or will not vote for him today.
For Carswell, his defection was not really about immigration, only partly about Europe and is less about swapping one political party for another and more about a philosophical view about what an MP should be and the relationship they should have with their constituents.
He uses the analogy of the internet taxi firm Uber, which is now threatening London’s black cab monopoly. “The reason why I am part of Ukip is because I see Ukip as part of Uber Politics,” he says.
“It takes on vested interests and make sure the customer gets a better deal. We need that in politics. We need an Uber party that takes on vested interests and gives the punter a better deal. Like Uber, Ukip is disruptive. Like Uber, the vested interests are trying to criticise Ukip for being things that it isn’t.”
Video: Carswell discusses his bid after defecting in August
But to the voters of Clacton it is all a bit more binary.
Driving his weather-protected mobility scooter along the seafront of Jaywick, one of poorest areas of Clacton and indeed the country, Paul Lambourne has no doubt why he will be voting for Carswell.
The 62-year-old former refuse collector is fed up with what he sees as unfettered immigration. “In London every shop is run by immigrants,” he says. “Even down here it’s bad. There are millions of them and loads of them shouldn’t be in this country. What have the Tories, Labour or Lib Dems ever done about it? I’m voting Ukip this time.”
At a local lunch club, Wendy Gower is of a similar view about immigration. Her 40-year-old son has not had a job for several years, since being laid off by a factory that “got rid of the locals and kept the immigrants”.
The other key issues in this campaign are local ones – a decision by Tendring Council to switch off street lighting between midnight and 5am, a chronic shortage of GPs to look after a predominantly elderly population and high local unemployment. On both issues Carswell is perceived to have a strong campaigning record, despite the fact that both the district and county council are Tory-run and he himself has been the town’s MP for 10 years.
So how can he really claim to be the insurgent new broom? “I managed to get the country council to see the light on street lights on 12 occasions,” he says.
“In all the other causes I took up I was ignored by a remote, unaccountable Tory fiefdom. I had to tread quite carefully before. I had to walk on eggshells. I don’t have to do that any more. I don’t have one hand tied behind my back.
“If I am re-elected on Friday the gloves are off. I can be on their case and I don’t have to worry about carping from self-serving councillors who sit in safe fiefdoms in South Essex and think it’s their duty to explain to the voters what the officials want to do.”
But it is hard to see how he will have more effect outside the tent than he will within.
He is also slightly unconvincing when asked whether he is worried about being wrongly perceived as anti-immigrant and possibly slightly racist because of his decision to join Ukip.
“I went to a multi-racial school in central Africa. A third of the pupils were of African heritage, a third European and a third were Asian,” he says. “Those values are incredibly important to me. I would never join an organisation that didn’t share those values. We have all got to get along.”
But what about the boy who asked if he was racist – does it worry him that he is now perceived in a way that he would never have been seen if he had still be a Tory?
“He would have said whatever it was that was likely to get a reaction,” he argues.
“Thankfully 14-year-olds have an anarchic streak that they tend to grow out of.”
Maybe. But it is hard not to conclude that Carswell himself is a bit of an anarchist, whose reason for leaving the Tories and joining Ukip was more about his inability to fit into the restricted and regimented world of traditional party politics and less about believing in Ukip’s policy platform. But that’s not how the voters of Clacton perceive it. And that’s not why Ukip has signed him up. He and it may find that this new political alliance is as uncomfortable as the old one.Reuse content