A poll at the weekend gave the Tory defector and Ukip candidate Douglas Carswell a 44-point lead in the Clacton by-election. He looks set to become Ukip’s first ever MP on Thursday.

One of the first people I saw as I came out of Clacton-on-Sea train station on Saturday was carrying a Douglas Carswell poster. He said his name was Tristan, and he’d just been at the Ukip campaign office with his son. He’d never voted before but was backing Carswell because of Ukip’s stance on immigration. He thought that David Cameron’s weak policies on immigration were to blame for the state of the country.

In the town centre I met the Green Party candidate, Chris Southall, giving out leaflets. He said he was concerned about Ukip’s popularity. I later met a Ukip supporter who’d voted Green at the last election; he’d never voted for Labour or the Tories, he said, because he distrusted the mainstream.

On the other side of the square was a group of anti-Ukip campaigners. Some were local but others had come from London. Malcolm, a former Labour Party member, complained about Labour’s lack of presence in the by-election. I didn’t see anyone canvassing for them on Saturday.

I walked along the seafront to Jaywick, a mile or two west of Clacton. It was founded as a holiday resort for Londoners by the Fabian property developer Frank Stedman in the 1920s. Much of it is now in disrepair; some parts are completely abandoned. Most of the shopfronts in the town centre are empty and crumbling. The Mermaid Tavern has been left derelict since it was torched a few years ago. Jaywick was recently ranked the most deprived place in England.

Alan Olford has been a Ukip member for over a decade. He told me that the party was growing rapidly in Jaywick; a recent meeting had attracted more than five hundred people. More people would join if they could afford the subscription fees, he said.

In one of the town’s few cafes I met residents who complained that immigrants were taking advantage of the welfare state, while Jaywick saw no investment from the Tory-run council. They also said Westminster ignored them; they hadn’t seen Labour or Conservative party campaigners in the town for 20 years. Ukip was different; Farage is a man of the people: he knows how to drink a pint and eat a bacon sandwich, the cafe owner said, echoing the tabloids almost verbatim.