Jay, I think that a degree of subterfuge is permissible in politics, and so are somewhat theatrical coups. On the broader question of honor, I have to ask myself whether it is more “honorable” for Reckless to continue to represent a party in which he longer has any faith, or to switch sides to a party he feels more able to support. What’s more, the fact that he is submitting himself to a special election (which he had no legal obligation to do) thus giving his constituents to reject his decision wipes the slate clean. I haven’t seen any polling data, but if I had to guess this will not be an easy seat for him to hold.
As for (the left-of-center journalist) Dan Hodges’s jibe about Reckless announcing his decision on the day “his country went to war” that seems to ignore the fact that the Conservatives continued with their conference on that same day: Politics has not been suspended, and nor should it be.
The Spectator has published some of Reckless’s musings about why he changed sides. If we assume that his account is broadly accurate (and it has the ring of truth) it helps explain why the Tory leadership is finding it so difficult to convince euroskeptics to stick with the Conservatives:
Reckless, who was sitting next to Carswell [another Tory MP who has since defected to UKIP], had asked the first question of the meeting, on why the party was telling voters it was regaining control of justice and home affairs in the EU while opting back in to so many of the major measures. The Prime Minister’s response astonished the two MPs:
‘And rather than just saying it was part of the deal with the Lib Dems, the Prime Minister came out and actually passionately argued for the European arrest warrant, despite the fact that, and you may also be aware that he and Chris Grayling had been arguing against Theresa May and Nick Clegg on this subject only weeks beforehand and as a backbencher he passionately argued against the European arrest warrant, yet now he just turned to him and sort of, you know, had a sort of look of great sincerity and put this sort of you know huge passionate argument in favour of the arrest warrant as the only way to catch terrorists.
‘It I think undermined our sort of belief and trust in the Prime Minister because I didn’t think he believed that or at least he hadn’t, or wasn’t saying anything and then John Baron asked a question about what we were going to renegotiate and he said that if I was to get back some of the powers that some people wanted, it would be almost like associate membership, as if that was self-evidently a bad thing rather than what most MPs in that room and most in the country wanted and I think that was the moment that Douglas and I decided actually that he wasn’t serious about it.’
As I see it, UKIP’s greatest achievement has been to force the Conservatives to do more about Europe than just vent. But the fact remains that, even now (despite some progress), the Tories have still done relatively little. That’s a reminder why UKIP (as imperfect as it is) continues to be essential. And Europe matters. I was not always in favor of British withdrawal from the EU (far from it), but I now believe that the EU has evolved to the point that Britain’s continued membership of the union is an obstacle to prosperity and, more important still, incompatible with a properly functioning democracy. This is not small stuff.
At the same time, I agree with you about the dangerous opportunity that the split on the right offers to a Labour party even less fit than usual to be running the country.
How to square that circle (as I think the phrase goes)?