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.

Photo: Getty
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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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