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by GK Strategy 28th August, 2014
3 min read

Defective By Design: Carswell Opens the Door to UKIP

The news broke earlier today that Douglas Carswell, MP for Clacton, has resigned from the Conservative Party, defecting to UKIP. It would be fair to say that a move like this has been long-awaited, with growing disaffection within the Conservative Party as it becomes increasingly divided over the EU question. Carswell’s defection has triggered a by-election in his Essex constituency, for which the former Conservative will stand as UKIP’s candidate.

The Conservatives have seen notable defections to UKIP in the past, giving rise to the controversial party’s three seats in the House of Lords. Former Conservative peers Lord Pearson of Rannoch and Lord Willoughby de Broke defected to UKIP in 2007, followed by Lord Stevens of Ludgate in 2012. UKIP have also previously had support in the House of Lords by hereditary peers, who subsequently left the House following the 1999 House of Lords Act.

Over in the Commons, Bob Spink, MP at the time for Castle Point, resigned the Tory Whip to join UKIP in 2008. However, he later returned to the House as an Independent Conservative, claiming that he had never actually formally joined UKIP. Spink consequently lost his seat in the 2010 General Election to Conservative candidate Rebecca Harris.

Having stood against then Prime Minister Tony Blair at Sedgefield in 2001, Carswell broke into Westminster in 2005 as the MP for Harwich. An outspoken Eurosceptic, he has made a name for himself as a regular rebel within the Party, voting against the party line on over 80 occasions since 2006.

This is the first time since 1982 that an MP has resigned their seat in order to represent another party in a by-election. Carswell’s current majority is 12,068, with previous polls predicting a clear-cut victory for the Tories in the 2015 General Election. This provides a real opportunity for the Labour Party to gain ground in the Conservative safe seat, as traditional Conservative voters split between their MP of nearly 10 years’ standing and the competing Party candidate.

Whilst it seems likely that the Conservatives, under significant pressure in this high-profile defection, will field a strong candidate, the election itself will be closely contested, providing UKIP with its best chance to gain a seat in Westminster through a popular standing MP. Moreover, Clacton came out top in the list of UKIP-friendly constituencies by experts Professor Matthew Goodwin at Nottingham University and Rob Ford at Manchester University in their recent book Revolt on the Right. There is no doubt that this by-election will see UKIP stealing national headlines once again as we get ever-closer to the General Election, threatening to disrupt the comfort of the major parties in that “cosy little clique called Westminster”.

Sharing the platform with the Clacton MP on his announcement, Carswell’s new party leader Nigel Farage has commended his new ally for making the “bravest and most honourable decision”. Although it has been hailed as a direct affront to the Prime Minister, the coming months will reveal how strong a challenge this decision will be for the Conservatives and its Eurosceptic members, who remain hot on Labour’s tails in the opinion polls.

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