What Carswell tell us about politics
Tory Douglas Carswell has defected to UKIP and quit as MP for Clacton, saying he will contest the subsequent by-election for Nigel Farage’s party.
BBC News Website 28 August 2014 : Tory MP Douglas Carswell defects to UKIP and forces by-election
This raises some interesting questions about Mr Carswell, UKIP and politics in general.
In some respects it is no surprise that Mr Carswell has defected; it is a pleasant surprise that having done so he is resigning his seat to seek a new mandate. But it is not all sweetness and light.
Roger Lord, who was selected to stand for UKIP at next year’s general election, has told BBC News he has “no intention” of stepping aside for the former Tory MP.
“It’s an enormous discourtesy to anybody really just to announce that,” he told BBC Essex.
He added: “Perhaps he’s jumping ship to try and get in ahead of all the other Conservative MPs who are going to find themselves in the unemployment queue come next May.”
Prominent local UKIP activists have also said there is no guarantee they will adopt Mr Carswell as their official candidate.
But UKIP’s ruling national executive committee said it had voted to officially adopt Mr Carswell as the party’s candidate in the by-election in Clacton.
“Roger Lord is not now, nor has he ever been the by-election candidate for Clacton,” said UKIP’s party secretary.
He said Mr Lord was “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 NEC”.
Apparently one of the reasons that Mr Carswell got disillusioned was lack of progress in the introduction of “open primaries” – which seems to be in conflict with the way that an adopted prospective UKIP candidate (presumably for the General Election) has been swept aside by party headquarters in favour of someone who has just joined (and presumably has not been on any approved candidates list).
Now it is quite probable that UKIP has a clause in its rules that allows party headquarters to step in and either impose or reopen the candidate selection for a by-election – even though no by-election has yet been called. So there is probably nothing “wrong” going on. But given Mr Carswell’s views about open primaries and the fact that the by-election is not imminent (commentators are saying that the earliest a by-election might happen is after the party conferences), it is rather surprising that UKIP are not holding an open primary.
I personally think open primaries are a bit daft. They allow all registered voters (not just party members) to vote – which means there is huge scope for mischief-making by non party members. The cost and inconvenience of primaries would be unnecessary if the electoral system allowed for transferable votes. (Transferable voting means that multiple candidates can stand and because of the transferring of votes according to voters’ preferences you can’t get split votes and let someone in “through the back door”.)
So the news today tells us that UKIP is opportunistic – but aren’t all parties. What is it going to tell us about other parties?
There is an interesting tactical situation – despite the fact that every party will say it is “out to win” the by-election.
It looks like safe Conservative territory:
2010 General Election
The Euro-election however may show some change.
Clacton is entirely contained within Tendring District Council, making up 21 of its 35 wards, and voters in the council as a whole overwhelmingly backed UKIP last year, helping it win three of the seven available MEP seats for the East of England.
MEP elections 2014: Tendring council
UKIP 19,398 48% ████████████████████████████████████████████████ Con 9,981 25% █████████████████████████ Lab 5,241 13% █████████████
Other results are probably unlikely.
Whilst any result is, in the short-term, good news for the victors, in the context of next year’s general election a win might be a two-edged sword.
A Labour win, will be celebrated by Labour, but it may make the Conservatives and UKIP realise that they are slitting each other’s throats. The consequence could be that at the General election it will be more than just Clacton that falls to Labour. So a Labour gain in the Clacton by-election could lead to the Euro-sceptics “coming to their senses”. This might mean either the soft UKIP support coming back to the Tories, or some form of “smoke-filled room” pacts at individual constituency level plus some appeasing of UKIP in the Conservative’s election manifesto.
[Secret pacts – the bastard love child of first past the post electoral systems]
Ideally Labour wants UKIP and the Conservatives to damage each other – but at the general election! Three or four years ago they would have been content to be bystanders – but now-a-days it seems that UKIP is also capable of damaging Labour. So Labour would rather not get caught up in the fighting until the general election.
Thus long-term (at least as far as the next general election), Labour might want to merely see their vote hold up, whilst the Conservatives narrowly hold Clacton. This would sustain the fear and panic within Conservative ranks but without precipitating any form of damage limiting arrangement between UKIP and the Tories.
For Labour,the long haul of the next general election has to be more important than winning a by-election.
A Conservative hold may cause the Conservatives to feel that they have “seen off” UKIP; their celebrations of a win will certainly look like that.
A Conservative loss would be a disaster, so a win might be such a relief that it may cause complacency. Most Conservatives may agree that complacency is not a good idea – but could they then agree on a strategy for dealing with UKIP? Is complacency better than civil war?
A by-election victory for UKIP would be heralded as a political earthquake, but as we have seen with Liberal revivals by-election victories do not necessarily point to general election victories. Likewise high-profile candidates did not necessarily lead to the SDP retaining their by-election gains. So UKIP winning Clacton may be more of a political shudder than a political earthquake.
The comparison of the UKIP/Conservatives rivalry with the SDP/Labour rivalry may, however, be illuminating. With our electoral system disruptive parties often do more damage to themselves and their rival fellow-travellers and consequently hold back the wider agenda of the upstart party.
How the challenged party responds to the upstart party is key. With the SDP/Labour battle we eventually got New Labour – which seemed to nick many of the SDP’s policies, but without adopting the organisational changes. It has not yet become clear what is the Tories’ response to UKIP. If the Tories are not to suffer an extended period in the wilderness like the Foot and Kinnock Labour Parties, they need to come up with a credible response. But the current frenzy – particularly if UKIP gain/hold Clacton is probably not the best of environments in which to try and develop such a response.
Politics in General
In his statement, Douglas Carswell attempts to tap in to the current disenchantment with current politics.
“The problem is that 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.
“Of course they talk the talk before elections. They say what they feel they must say to get our support… but on so many issues – on modernising our politics, on the recall of MPs, on controlling our borders on less government, on bank reform, on cutting public debt, on an EU referendum – they never actually make it happen.
He said only UKIP could “shake up that cosy little clique called Westminster”.
I am not sure that he “gets it” in the same way as so many of us – particularly Scots – are totally fed up with the Westminster system. He wants to leave a party; we have a nation wanting to leave the UK.
He is right about the clique; he is right that many senior Conservatives are not “on our side” (but most of us have known that for years); he is also right that there is much talk before elections and little action after. Much of his criticism applies particularly to the Conservative party.
But he remains committed to the system – he wants to get re-elected to Westminster! The current system relies on a rigged electoral system that makes candidates reliant on their party selection committees. It is a system that squeezes out diversity of opinion and sustains a “Westminster bubble” that believes that what happens outside the cities of Westminster and London does not really matter. And it is situated in a part of the country that does not recognise that its view of the rest of the country is essentially that of an imperial power viewing its colonies. It is not sustainable.