In a thinly-veiled dig at former MP Douglas Carswell, UKIP’s candidate in Clacton has claimed he would be the first “proper” UKIP representative for the constituency if elected.
Mr Carswell won UKIP’s only seat in Parliament in 2015, having defected from the Conservatives a year earlier.
But after growing rancour inside the party, he quit soon after the EU referendum, claiming UKIP’s job was “done”.
Paul Oakley, who is on UKIP’s National Executive Committee, will represent the party in Clacton this election.
Speaking to Sky News, he claimed Mr Carswell had never been truly committed to UKIP, and believed the party still had a relevance in the constituency.
“Douglas Carswell was always semi-detached, but this is a Brexit seat, that’s the important thing,” he said.
“Right across the political parties, Labour supporters, Tory supporters and obviously UKIP supporters in this seat wanted out of the EU, so I want to pick up on that support and get a proper UKIP MP here for the first time,” he added.
He also claimed Giles Watling, his Conservative opponent, was “out of touch” with the area where more than 70% voted to leave.
However, questions have been raised about Mr Oakley’s own connections to the community.
“UKIP bosses parachute new candidate” was the front page headline on the Clacton Gazette, after the local branch’s nomination, councillor Jeff Bray, was rejected by the national party.
Mr Bray had been backed by former UKIP donor Arron Banks, who himself had been considering standing for the seat had Mr Carswell run again as an independent.
In the wake of UKIP’s infighting, the Conservatives are confident they can regain the seat.
Mr Watling, a former actor who was beaten by UKIP in the 2014 by-election and the 2015 general election, told Sky News the message he was hearing on the doorstep was “positive”.
“I’m getting a lot of feedback from people who used to vote UKIP or whatever, and they feel that the job’s done – so they’re coming back to the Conservative party,” he said.
“It is about Brexit and people feel that Theresa May is the person to deliver that with a strong mandate.”
Asked what effect he felt UKIP’s infighting would have on the campaign, he said: “I fought the by-election against Douglas Carswell and lost.
“It went mad here, I mean the world was interested because we were breaking the mould of British politics, and I lost, yeah fair enough, but then I came back at the general election to 3,000 and I think with just a little bit more of a push we could have won it last time.
“This time, without those big hitters, without Douglas Carswell and without Arron Banks – it’s a bit of shame really because they would have split the vote enormously opposite me.”
In 2015 UKIP and the Conservatives took the lion’s share of the Clacton votes, receiving 44% and 37% respectively.
But Labour, who received just 14% of the vote in 2015, say they are hopeful of picking up new voters this time.
The party’s candidate Tasha Osben said her local branch had increased its membership by more than 300 since Jeremy Corbyn became leader, and claimed the Labour manifesto should appeal to UKIP voters.
“Everybody here is worse off because of the Conservative government,” she said.
“So I absolutely think that Labour has a chance – UKIP are dead, Douglas Carswell has stepped down, and the people here need a local representative to bring the voice of Clacton to parliament.
“Labour’s manifesto will massively appeal to UKIP voters. UKIP voters here were most preoccupied with leaving the European Union, that’s done now – so now we need focus on larger politics, on properly funding our public services, properly funding our schools, and looking after our elderly population.”
:: Also standing for election in the Clacton constituency are: David Grace for the Liberal Democrats; Chris Southall for the Green Party; Robin Tilbrook for the English Democrats; and independent candidates Nick Martin and Caroline Shearer.