In a shock move, the Conservative MP for Clacton, Douglas Carswell has sensationally defected and switched his allegiance from the Conservative party to the UK Independence party.
Carswell, who identifies himself as both a Eurosceptic and a libertarian, announced his change of allegiance and his stepping down as MP for Clacton, which triggers a bi-election in the constituency. Having been the sitting MP for Clacton since 2005 the move has sent the constituency into something akin to shock. During his 2010 re-election campaign Carswell ran unopposed since UKIP did not field a candidate against him and in fact actively supported Carswell’s re-election campaign due to his Eurosceptic views.
Carswell has stated he made switch due to his desire to see “fundamental change in British politics” and because he believed “many of those at the top of the Conservative Party are simply not on our side. They aren’t serious about the change that Britain so desperately needs.” This does not appear to be a radical departure from his positions as a politician. He was been seen as something of a radical in the Conservative party and was always pushing for fundamental alterations to the political system which is currently in place.
The switch has granted a boost to UKIP who, up until this point, have seemed like a fringe party whose support, whilst vocal, have always been a considerable minority. With Nigel Farage’s statement that he would “resign as party head” should UKIP not gain a seat in the next parliament. This development should encourage supporters of UKIP that the head of their party will remain a while longer. Farage, who joined Carswell when the announcement of the switch was made, has called the move from Carswell the “bravest, most honourable & noble thing I’ve seen in British politics”. Whilst this is clearly hyperbole it does grant the upstart party credibility where the prevailing perception remains that they are a party of racists and homophobes. The move also shows that whilst most political commentators stated that following the European election support would decrease, the party again seems to be gathering steam.
The issue following the shock switch was if the existing candidate in Clacton would allow Carswell to simply step into the role he occupied. Roger Lord, himself a former Conservative, had stated he had no intention to simply move aside and allow his former opponent to take his position. Lord stated that Carswell jumping ship was a “complete surprise” to him and stated “It’s pretty arrogant of Douglas Carswell to assume that the voters and the electorate are like sheep and they will just go along with this.”
Having stated he would not give up his candidacy Lord was again taken by surprise when the UKIP party secretary issued a statement saying “The National Executive Committee of the Party have voted to adopt Douglas Carswell as the candidate for the upcoming by-election. Roger Lord is mistaken in his belief that he is the candidate and he can best serve the party’s and the county’s interests by standing behind the decision of the National Elective Committee.” This has led to Lord stepping down from his candidacy and has allowed Carswell to take ownership of the Clacton branch of UKIP.
This move by Douglas Carswell however may also be motivated by the fact that Clacton has become a strong contender for the first seat held by UKIP; even with Roger Lord leading the campaign. Figures are indicating that UKIP will win “in a landslide” in Clacton and have a dominant hold on the constituency. A survey conducted by the Daily Mail put UKIP support in the area at 64% with the Conservatives at 20%, Labour on 13% and the Liberal Democrats only garnering 2% of the support. It must be stated that this is an early poll but even if the UKIP lead is not as massive as 40 percentage points they still clearly hold this constituency. This could indicate that whilst the sensational move by Carswell could well be based upon his political shift; it may also simply be self interest in maintaining a grip on his seat in parliament without having to endure a difficult race.
The support for UKIP would appear to suggest, as with other European nations, the public has, due to political blow-back from the recession, moved towards being more Eurosceptic and conservative in its ideals. More than half those polled in Clacton favoured leaving the European Union with 54% wishing for a complete exit by Britain. Whereas only 26% were opposed to cutting ties with Brussels. In a sign showing Carswell’s popularity more than a third, 34%, have moved to supporting UKIP because of his new involvement with the party.
Prime Minister David Cameron weighed in on the switch called it “bizarre” as he had promised a referendum on Britain’s involvement in the European Union by 2017 prior to Carswells move. Donald Tusk the new leader of the European Union has focused in on the UK’s policy and has called it “an area he wants to make progress”.
With the switch however comes both controversy and an actual dialogue about the issues of Euro scepticism and immigration policy. Carswell with the defection has become the likely favourite to become the first MP for UKIP, this could be indicative of a major shift in our political structure. A structure which has traditionally had two major party powers with a third minor power and then fringe interest groups.
This move from Carswell could mean a great deal for the future of the British political system. This move could lead to UKIP becoming a force in UK politics or at least having a voice. It could lead to the major parties having to take a hard line against UKIP and start taking them seriously as a threat to the political status quo. It may well mean that the Conservatives who Carswell left will have to start making plans to partner with UKIP which will not be a popular decision both within the party or with David Cameron. Finally it could simply mean that the political talks become broader. A party which has gathered this much support shows a deep discontent from the people of the union, the major political players in Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative will have to become aware that the people they are representing are not happy. If they do not change their policies and start listening to their constituents soon parliament will be flooded with UKIP members and not members of their own parties.
Let us hope that the politicians take notice and change quickly or they will quickly become obsolete dinosaurs trailing behind a party which they once laughed at.