Greasy Pole: Clashing In Clacton
Jaywick is a village on the Essex coast with a stretch of golden sand. Built in 1928, it originally consisted of ‘chalets’ but these developed as permanent residences and the occasional holiday retreat for anyone who was in employment permanent enough for them to afford a week away to recover from That War followed by The Slump. For many it was as close to paradise as they were likely to get. But it is all different now, for Jaywick has fallen to the lower layers of poverty and decay. In 2011 a survey by the Department of Communities and Local Government stated that on the basis of poverty, crime, education, unemployment and housing it was the most deprived area in England. There is a lack of street lighting and pavements and what were parades of shops are now wastelands – empty and vandalised. It is part of the genteel Parliamentary constituency of Clacton, which was represented by the Conservative Douglas Carswell until August, when he changed to UKIP and stood down from Parliament with the stated intention of contesting the resulting by-election there.
Clacton was created as a parliamentary constituency for the 2010 election, when Carswell had a majority of 12,088. In common with a number of coastal towns, it has a higher proportion of retired people and a lesser number of those classified as ‘non-white’. Votes there are cast defensively; local polls confirm support for Carswell’s stand against British membership of the EU, for restricting the inflow of immigrants and longer prison sentences for repeat offenders… all of which add up to Clacton being a hopeful place for a UKIP candidate. Among the polls the Conservative Home website predicted that Carswell would get some 56 per cent of the by-election vote as against only 24 per cent for the Tory candidate, for he promised to change things: ‘Our politics is dominated by politicians. It’s all about them, not the people they are supposed to answer to… First under Tony Blair, then Gordon Brown, now David Cameron, it’s all about the priorities of whichever tiny clique happens to be sitting on the sofa in Downing Street. Different clique, same sofa . . . They seek every great office, yet believe in so little’.
Carswell is well experienced in this matter of aiming for a place on that sofa. He first contested an election in 2001, at none other than Sedgefield where Tony Blair was the Member. At the time, before Iraq and the infamous lies, there was something of a slump in the popularity of that Labour government and Carswell reduced Blair’s majority by 7,500. And then in 2005, after a spell in David Cameron’s office, he stood for Harwich and turned out the sitting Labour MP by 920 votes. In 2007 he was a joint- author of Direct Democracy an agenda for a new model party, which led The Spectator to include him among ‘…the brightest young Conservative thinkers’. In the Sunday Times in July 2008 he was hailed as ‘…one of the energetic young Tory modernisers elected to the Commons in 2005’ and in the following year the Daily Telegraph named him as ‘the Parliamentarian of the Year’. All of which, with his increasing majority in Clacton, entitled Carswell to regard himself as someone with real prospects. But every day, in so many ways, the arrogance of politicians with their bogus ‘principles’, their superficial ‘energy’, their ‘modernising’ is exposed to us. How does Carswell match up to this?
After the 2010 election the Coalition agreement promised to introduce a system whereby the voters select candidates in primary elections. Carswell stated his support for this reform, in the so-called Contract With Britain. Which would have been more convincing if he had applied the system in his own case. But when he moved from the Tory Party to UKIP and resigned as an MP he said he would stand again without any mention of a primary election. Instead the matter was subject to the system he professes to despise; in fact it was even more closed – privately settled with Nigel Farage during a cosy meal in a discreet Mayfair restaurant. This took no account of the fact that there was already a selected UKIP candidate – Roger Lord, a local farmer who had been a member of UKIP since 1997. Lord complained bitterly about being elbowed aside, to the extent that he more or less removed himself from all political activity of whatever party.
If there were ever any doubts about Carswell’s resolve to make his name – and ensure himself a place further up the Greasy Pole – they would have been stilled by what the Daily Mail called his ‘fearless’ call for the Speaker of the House of Commons Michael Martin to be dismissed for his resistance to a more open system in the matter of the MPs’ expenses. In May 2009 Carswell’s motion of no confidence led to Martin resigning from the chair, pleading that this was ‘for the sake of unity’. But Carswell himself was not backward in the scandal, for his campaign against MPs’ sleaze (he complained that their standing had ‘never been so low’) did not prevent him being one of those imaginative claimants for ‘expenses’. He began by designating a £1 million flat in London as his second home before flipping to a £335,000 house in Essex. This was followed by his claims for furniture and equipment which between 2007 and 2009 cost some £32,000. He claimed £429 for gardening and then, perhaps to reveal himself as someone with an eye for detail, 74p for a washing line from Tesco. But above all else was a £655 Maximus love seat ‘in deep moss brushed cotton with extra fabric protector’ for use when he moved in with his future wife.
We are fully accustomed to the sprouting of some smaller third party urging us to vote them into power because they are cleaner, more honest and reliable than the two big ones with their playing elections as a kind of gruesome Musical Chairs. We remember David Steel and his Liberals, Roy Jenkins and his SDP. Now we have Farage and his strangely impulsive, self-incriminating lot. The signs are that come 9 November Carswell will be their first MP. But all the evidence says that he should not let this excite him into any further delusions. Which also goes for those who vote for him.