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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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.