Nigel Farage and Douglas Carswell at the press conference announcing his defection from the Conservatives to Ukip.
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To beat Carswell, the Tories need to mobilise the anti-Ukip vote

The party's best hope of defeating the defector lies in winning tactical support from centrist voters. 

If Tory MP Douglas Carswell's defection to Ukip was grim enough for David Cameron, his decision to trigger a by-election (an admirable display of his democratic credentials) only heightens the danger. Cameron now faces the prospect of a Ukip candidate triumphing for the first time over the Conservatives in a parliamentary contest. 

Carswell's strong personal brand means that he has been swiftly installed as the favourite. At the 2010 general election, he achieved a swing of 9.7 per cent from Labour to the Tories in his Clacton constituency (one of the highest in the UK) and won a majority of 12,068. As Anoosh noted, the seat is also the most demographically favourable to Ukip in the country. Should Carswell win, other Tory waverers may be emboldened to follow. This is a contest that the Conservatives cannot afford to lose. 

The temptation will be to field a right-wing candidate with strong eurosceptic credentials (as in South Thanet, where they have selected a former Ukip leader to take on Farage), but it is one the Tories should resist. Rather, they should run a centrist figure capable of winning tactical votes from Labour and Lib Dem supporters. In the recent Newark by-election, a significant number of centre-left voters held their noses and voted Conservative on the grounds that it was the best means of stopping Ukip. One compared it to backing Jacques Chirac against Jean-Marie Le Pen in the 2002 French presidential election. Another said: "I've never voted Tory in my life, but I'm not having those bastards [Ukip] getting in". 

Carswell's personal brand, as I said, is strong, and this thoughtful figure cannot be dismissed as a fruitcake, a loony, or a closet racist. But his new association with Ukip, a party toxic to many, will undoubtedly put some voters off. If the Tories are to hold the seat, their best hope lies in running a campaign that exploits that factor. As Carswell's defection has proved, you can't out-kip the kippers. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.