Thursday, August 28, 2014

Losing a Free Thinking Conservative

Douglas Carswell's announcement that he has defected from the Conservatives to join UKIP is a matter of no small moment for the Tory party.  First, Carswell - currently the MP for Clacton - has, entirely consistently with the principles he has always proclaimed in speeches and writings, chosen to resign his seat and re-fight it as a UKIP candidate.  Given his effectiveness as a local MP, and the prominence of his announcement, there must be a high chance that he will win it back under his new colours.  I would have thought he is likely to retain it through a general election as well, firmly embedding him as UKIP's first MP.  Headache number one for the Tories.

Second, this is bad news for David Cameron on two fronts.  The first front is the reaction of his own party.  If the Conservatives cannot accommodate an MP of the calibre of Mr Carswell on the grounds of its European approach, it might be reasonable to conclude that it may have trouble with the large number of members - parliamentary and grassroots - who broadly share Mr Carswell's views. Mark Wallace on Conservative Home has a useful analysis of the wider implications of the Carswell resignation here.

The second front is more personal.  Douglas Carswell rapidly carved out a position as one of the Tory Party's most interesting thinkers, not just on Europe, but on broader issues of constitutionalism and ways to make politics work better in the modern age.  Douglas Carswell won't stop thinking and making important contributions to the debate on politics and its application in the UK, but what a blow it is to have that mind outside the Tory Party and not in it.  We always knew the Tory faultline on Europe was unlikely to be sealed by the promise of a referendum.  Mr. Carswell's defection appears to have illuminated this in spectacular fashion.

For a comment on how Carswell's defection will not fundamentally alter the political water, read Dan Hodges' commentary here.


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