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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Douglas Carswell defects to UKIP: A Clacton by election could change the general election result

Douglas Carswell was until this morning the Conservative MP for Clacton on the Essex coast. He has now resigned from the Conservative party, joined UKIP, and says he will resign his seat in order to contest it as a UKIP candidate in the resulting by-election.

His resignation is not a total surprise as it follows a long period as a critic of the Conservative Party's direction and of David Cameron in particular. Carswell's criticisms are not limited to the Conservatives and not limited to Europe - he has developed a critique of British politics generally -  but Europe is among his key complaints.

In his resignation speech Carswell questioned David Cameron's commitment to EU reform accusing him of aiming to do the bear minimum necessary in order to secure an 'in' vote, while Carswell's view of a satisfactory renegotiation seems more akin to associate membership. He says this is a classic example the political class not being straight with the electorate and his reason to quit. The Conservative leadership for their part will feel aggrieved that having set out a 2017 referendum on EU membership they are rewarded with Carswell's 'ingratitude' - recriminations will run and run.

Carswell prides himself on having a large following locally and Clacton itself, it has been argued, is  the "number one most demographically favourable seat in the country for UKIP" according to Goodwin and Ford's Revolt on the Right. He therefore has a fighting chance of winning the seat. So what could happen?

Firstly, it is unclear whether the Conservatives will allow the by election to go ahead - they have to approve the writ being moved and could argue that with an election already scheduled the people of Clacton can wait until May 2015. However, if it is called, the stakes could not be higher.

For the Conservatives to hope to win the 2015 general election they need to minimise the UKIP vote. The best way to do this is the classic 'squeeze'. In a first past the post election they will say there is no point voting for a third placed party - i.e UKIP. This will be very effective. However Carswell's by-election could change voter's calculations - and set a hugely important electoral precedent one way or another:
  • If Carswell wins, UKIP can then tell voters everywhere that voting UKIP gives a genuine change of producing an MP. This could be catastrophic for the Conservatives and may deprive them of a number of seats, to other parties mostly, but conceivably to UKIP as well.
  • If Carswell loses, the result will be equally disastrous for UKIP. The Conservatives can use it to show that even in one of UKIP's best constituencies with one of their biggest names they can not win a seat - so why waste your vote in May 2015 will be the refrain.
UKIP does not just take votes from the Conservatives, they also gain a lot of their support from Labour, non-voters and even the Lib Dems. However, Carswell by taking on his former party will polarise the debate again into Conservatives/UKIP, something perhaps both parties may wish to avoid. This could be a foretaste of 2015.

In any case, a Labour victory would most likely mean that the In/Out EU referendum Cameron has promised won't happen, as Ed Miliband looks determined to stick to his promise not to offer a straight vote. It would be a tremendous irony if Carswell's defection - Carswell, remember, having campaigned tirelessly for an EU referendum and more direct democracy - would in the end deny the UK public an EU referendum and more direct democracy.


Average Englishman said...

It matters not whether the breakthrough happens in Clacton, Thanet or elsewhere. The point is, it is going to happen. UKIP is not a 'flash in the pan' protest vote party. It is here to stay and will only get stronger the more that people understand what its policies are and manage to see through the racist slur propaganda coming from the older parties and much of the media.

Freedom Lover said...

Something that many of us Better-Off-Outers regularly overlook is the geographical demography of us anti-EU types. In my travels, I have noticed that there are plenty of us spread freely & generously around much of southern England (& probably elsewhere too), but with one major exception - London.

Londoners still seem to favour a UK/EU connection. Because of London's economic importance within the whole UK, that's a major blocking factor. But if we can change London's majority view (or perhaps even just move it to a near majority one) against the EU, then we would be home & hosed - & the EU would be history as far as the UK is concerned. Once the 2 years' worth of Article 50 negotiatons were complete, that is. So let's have some suggestions from Open Europe as to how we can get London firmly onside with us Better-Off-Outers!

Peter van Leeuwen said...

With the UK's democratic system (parliament half unelected, the other half unrepresentative of the popular votes) in more serious need of repair than most, having someone who tries to break open that system is not necessarily bad. I doubt though that much will happen.

christhai said...

Carswell has only said aloud what the majority know to be true.
David Cameron and his committed UK as a part of the EU, ruled by Berlin group are just frauds.

Cameron's noisy "anti-Brussels" clamouring is to take the public eye off his real goal. The people of the UK bound in EU servitude!

Good luck Carswell - flood your Constituency with tens of thousands of decent and true English folk and leave not a spot uncovered for the traitorous Tories to sully.

Time to say NO to the sheer evil of the EU.