CLACTON-ON-SEA, England (Reuters) – As he walks through the southeastern English seaside town of Clacton with a large banner for the anti-EU UK Independence Party under his arm, there is no doubt who 47-year-old builder Phil Drew will vote for in an election this week.
A former supporter of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives, Drew likes UKIP’s promise to curb immigration, he likes its plan to pull Britain out of the European Union, and he believes the established political parties are out of touch.
He is not the only one.
UKIP appears set to win its first elected seat in Britain’s parliament here on October 9, a blow to Cameron which highlights the threat posed to his chances of victory in a national election seven months hence.
“They have come in and done nothing … we have been lied to in the past,” said Drew of Cameron’s party.
“We have got to get the country out of this mess. The youngsters can’t get jobs, the immigrants … send all the money back home. We have got to look after our own first.”
Disenchanted, he voted for UKIP in the European elections in May. UKIP topped those polls in Britain, winning 24 of the country’s 73 seats in the European Parliament.
Cameron, whose party trails opposition Labour in most opinion polls, is scrambling to stop voters and even some of his lawmakers deserting him for UKIP ahead of next year’s national vote, a trend which could split the centre-right vote and gift victory to Labour.
The Clacton vote was triggered by Conservative lawmaker Douglas Carswell’s decision in August to switch allegiance to UKIP and seek re-election to validate the move.
It has since been followed by the defection of another Conservative lawmaker, a former deputy London Mayor and a major Conservative donor, changes which overshadowed the governing party’s final annual conference ahead of the 2015 election.
Carswell, 43, said he was resigning because he had lost faith in Cameron’s promises to try to renegotiate Britain’s EU ties if re-elected. Cameron has pledged to hold a referendum in 2017 on whether to stay in the EU after the planned renegotiation.
Opinion polls have shown Carswell, who won the seat for the Conservatives in 2010 with a majority of more than 12,000, will hold on to it. One put support for UKIP at 64 per cent and the other at 56 per cent, versus just 20 and 24 per cent for the Conservatives.
While that is in part due to his personal popularity locally, one of the polls by Survation showed nearly 57 per cent of respondents planned to vote for him because they liked UKIP.