The chances of a Conservative victory in the next election (May) grew even more remote with the announcement yesterday that Tory MP Douglas Carswell, perhaps the most libertarian member of the parliamentary party, has defected to UKIP. Carswell is giving his constituents a chance to turf him out at a special election. Typically defecting MPs simply switch sides without more ado, leaving their constituents represented by somebody from a party for which most of them did not vote.
Norman Tebbit, one of the last of the Truly Thatcherite old guard, comments in the Daily Telegraph:
If Carswell just wanted to put on a show and rock the boat a bit he could have defected to Ukip but stayed on in the Commons until the general election next year. If he had done so he would also have qualified for a generous resettlement grant should he then have lost his seat. He has been unmoved by such personal considerations.
Carswell is a convinced euroskeptic, but his decision is about more than just that.
The Guardian reports:
With cameras crammed into a darkened room at One Great George Street, Farage walked in with Carswell to declare cheerfully that he had brought in the media on false pretences. Carswell then announced, to cheers from Ukip supporters, that he was abandoning the Tories to join Ukip after accusing Cameron of failing to deliver change on Europe.
Carswell made clear that his criticisms went beyond Europe as he criticised what he called the “little clique” of Westminster. He said: “Of course they talk the talk before elections, they say what they feel they must say to get our support when they want our support. But on so many issues – on modernising our politics, on controlling our borders, on less government, on bank reform, on cutting public debt, on an EU referendum – they never actually let it happen.”
To be fair, I think that Cameron (if he is reelected) will provide a referendum even if sets the stage in a way designed to secure a vote for continued EU membership.
For now the focus will be on Carswell’s ability to hang on to the seat (too early to say; but I’d guess that he’s in with a good chance), but for those interested in the longer term outlook for UKIP this piece by Henry Hill on Conservative Home (written before the Carswell news) is well worth a look.
Hill discusses a conventional build-up of UKIP (focusing on it appeal to former Labour votes as the next stage in its growth),. But goes to add this:
The other path is what The Week termed a ‘reverse takeover’: use the party as a vehicle for shifting the political centre in a given direction, and then dispose of it. Nigel Farage likes to describe the SDP [a breakaway party on the center-left that rose to brief prominence in the 1980s] as the most influential political [British] party of the late 20th Century because, to paraphrase, we ended up with three of them. The SDP, UKIP supporters should note, is conspicuous today by its non-existence.
On this model, UKIP brings sufficient pressure to bear to move the Conservatives where Farage wants them, and then reunites the right – on Farage’s terms.
It’s easy to see why this attracts Farage – and it isn’t just because he probably doesn’t have two decades of frontline politics left in him. Farage, like a lot of UKIP activists but crucially unlike most of the party’s potential support, is a committed Thatcherite. Apart from getting out of Europe, what he’d really like is the ‘proper’ Conservative Party back. Moreover, he is deeply opposed in principle to the sort of policies that would maximise his party’s potential vote, especially on economic matters: patriotic protectionism, industrial policy, and so on.
Yet the more UKIP attempts to move away from being perceived as ‘single issue’, the more it attracts people who don’t view it as a vehicle for leaving the EU. As Daniel Hannan has noted, the more time and effort people spend pounding the streets, running for councils and assemblies, and serving in elected office, the more people are getting attached to UKIP as a party.
This probably won’t matter so long as Farage remains leader, and of course it is impossible to know what impact an In/Out referendum could have on the UKIP phenomenon, whatever the outcome. But such a referendum will bring these questions to a head: the party will be forced to decide, and articulate, whether or not it has a purpose beyond the EU and, if so, what that purpose is.
It seems likely that whoever succeeds Farage as leader will be drawn from the new school of UKIP politicians, who are more attached to the party and better prepared to make the leftward adjustments of course required to align the party best with the economic inclinations of its potential voters. In which case the party could well become a permanent fixture of British politics – in a form that Nigel Farage never intended, and probably would not like at all.
Yes, Hill is writing on a Tory website, so he won’t be disposed to portray UKIP in the most favorable light, but there’s a great deal to what he has to say. The problem (and opportunity) posed by “red UKIP” would best be resolved within a reunited (and somewhat redefined) right, but I don’t see how that happens, for just the reasons that Dan Hannan suggests. UKIP’s activists have invested too much of themselves in their own party for that.