journalist recently told me that his advice to young, budding reporters is to
never go away in August as something always happens and there is never anyone
around to report it. And so it proved yesterday when everyone seemed to be
caught out by the announcement that Douglas Carswell, Conservative MP for
Clacton, is defecting to UKIP and forcing a by-election in his constituency.
Instantly it caused shock and surprise but soon enough thoughts began turning
to what it all means.
defection is clearly a blow to the Conservative Party. Ed Miliband has already
been quick to point to it being a sign of division and weakness in the
Conservative Party. It certainly does not look good for the governing Party to
lose an MP – in a safe seat – to a Party with no other members in the House. It makes for an unwanted distraction
and a diversion of precious finances towards fighting an unforeseen, and
previously very safe, by-election.
For now the
blow is not fatal, but what will be worrying Tory HQ is the prospect of more
defectors coming out of the woodwork in the coming months. If this is the start
of a trend and a few more colleagues follow Mr Carswell into Nigel Farage’s
open arms then the Conservatives begin to have a real problem. Not only will it
show a divided Party – the public hate seeing a divided Party – but the
Conservatives are already desperate for every seat in the House of Commons they
can get and will feel the loss of any more.
has always been a problem for David Cameron and the right wing of
the Conservative Party has never been enamoured with their leader who,
they point out privately, was the leader who
couldn’t win a majority against Gordon Brown. The prospect of defeat at
the General Election can force a Party into two directions: unity and
resolve to fight the election, or all out war among disgruntled members.
fallout from Mr Carswell’s summer transfer,
could, perversely, help to unify the Conservative Party. A number of
MPs who may have been ripe for UKIP have
already come out against any such a move and they may now be spooked. A
Conservative victory in Clacton would help this even further.
to the Conservatives is well known and this move only serves to highlight that.
With a sitting Conservative MP joining their ranks it continues to build the
much needed momentum that they whipped up at the European Elections. It ensures
the Party continues to be talked about and adds
an air of credibility which had previously been lacking. Starting from a
position of no MPs and just 3% of the vote in 2010 this gives credence to their
argument that they are a serious political Party which should not be ignored.
question is what happens next in Clacton. Matthew Goodwin, an academic
at Nottingham University who has been closely studying UKIP, suggests
is the “most favourable seat for UKIP in the country". The by-election
therefore throws up a number of potential outcomes. If Mr Carswell
retains his seat, this time as a UKIP candidate, it will not only
good news for Mr Farage’s Party, but also provide their first win in a
election and another damaging strike to the Conservatives. It may also
encourage other MPs to follow suit. UKIP’s credibility would again
boost and they would now be a part of Westminster politics – with
But what if Mr
Carswell loses? This is perhaps the most interesting permutation. It would be a
significant defeat for man who enjoyed a large majority. Would he seek to stand
as a UKIP candidate at the General Election elsewhere or is this his 15 minutes?
Conservatives would no doubt be buoyed by a victory, although of course it is a
seat they expect to win under normal circumstances. A defeat could damage
UKIP’s positive narrative and undo much of the positivity the defection itself
caused. UKIP themselves would likely brush it off but it is surely a seat they
would target with a demographic profile ideal for their appeal. However, defeat
would raise serious questions. Mr Carswell is a very popular MP in his own
constituency, his 12,000 majority is testament to that – what chance is there for less well-known
UKIP candidates, in seats where they have
very little personal following, of
persuading voters to join the “People’s Army”?
conundrum is just another fascinating twist along the long road to May
will see whether the individual reputation of a popular constituency MP
can trump Party support. The timing is delicious: Parliament returns
next week and the Conservatives are down an MP. With conference season
just around the corner expect to hear much more
scuttlebutt emanating from late night bars in Glasgow, Birmingham,
and now Doncaster.
Follow ComRes on Twitter for the latest polls and analysis:@ComResPolls
Author: Tom Mludzinski, Head of Political Polling @tom_ComRes
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