Douglas Carswell MP for Clacton in Essex has caused a political storm this week when he announced that he was defecting from the Conservative Party to join Nigel Farage’s UKIP. Political defection is nothing new; Winston Churchill was well known for it and many others have done it but this weeks’ defection is all the more poignant because it comes less than a year before the general election. By defecting and handing back his seat in Parliament Carswell has caused a by – election, a real test of Conservative popularity.
On his own website Carswell lined out the reasons for his changing sides; believing that UKIP was the way forward, the only way to break up what he described as the “cosy, little clique” in Westminster and the way to meet the needs of his constituents.
David Cameron has responded by saying that he felt the move was “counter-productive” for the former Tory and that it was also “regrettable”. Whilst Nigel Farage welcomed the defection and praised Carswell’s bravery in defection and triggering the byelection. Reactions from constituents vary greatly; although he has only been in the job four years he has already built up trust in many of his constituents who have already confirmed that they will be changing allegiances and voting for UKIP. However his real problem will come from those who are lifelong Tory voters of which there are also many in the area. These people have already come out saying that Carswell’s move confuses them and that they will continue to vote Conservative no matter what.
Carswell’s move has been seen by many as UKIP’s first real opportunity to gain a seat in Westminster. It’s thought that Carswell currently enjoys a majority of 12,000 in his seat, a seat that was newly created in the 2010 general election. Academics believe that he has a good chance of winning the seat for UKIP as the area seemed to contain people most likely to vote for UKIP. Unlike the Newark byelection which was a particularly strong Tory safe seat.
But Carswell’s move could have more serious implications for the Tory party as a whole. Carswell claims that he is not the only one in the Conservative party that has considered the thought of defecting to UKIP. Potentially this could lead to a much more serious back bench revolt for David Cameron. Although it is important to remember that Carswell has always been considered a particularly vocal and radical member of the Tory party but not one that has ever held a ministerial position. Carswell’s opinions on Europe are well known for being particularly sceptical.
One final interesting note on Carswell’s defection comes from within UKIP itself. Whilst Nigel Farage seems to have opened his arms to Douglas Carswell’s automatic promotion to candidate the existing candidate for UKIP in Clacton is not so pleased. Roger Lord says he will fight Carswell to be the candidate as he had planned to in next year’s general election. So there could be an internal battle for the new member of UKIP to face before the by – election.