Douglas Carswell is defecting to Ukip. Photo: YouTube screengrab
Show Hide image

Tory MP Douglas Carswell defects to Ukip and triggers by-election

The MP for Clacton has defected from the Conservatives to Ukip.

At a special press conference this morning, the Clacton MP Douglas Carswell made a surprise announcement that he has defected from the Conservative party to Ukip. He will stand down as an MP, triggering a by-election to give his constituents the chance to re-elect him now he has changed his political allegiance.

According to tweets by academic and Ukip expert Matthew Goodwin, Carswell told the press conference:

Only Ukip can shake up that cosy little clique called Westminster...

Ministers don't think things through. They are not getting the basics right. We need change...

There is one honourable thing to do. I will now resign from parliament and stand for Ukip in the by election that will follow...

I am standing here precisely because the Conservative leadership does not [want] real change...

I voted for Cameron in 2005 but I've come to realise that they are not serious about political reform...

I want change. We have had a duopoly. They are just taking turns of sitting on a sofa.

Goodwin, who has done extensive research into Ukip's appeal, and co-wrote the book Revolt on the Right (April 2014), describes Carswell's seat as the "number one most demographically favourable seat in the country for Ukip" and calls it "stacked full of Ukip-friendly voters". Carswell has a big majority of 12,068, or 27.93 per cent (a 52.93 per cent share of the vote), although it's difficult to tell from the last general election results how Ukip would fare in that seat, as they didn't field a candidate there last time.

The seat has a high concentration of voters who are likely to be enthusiastic about a Ukip representative: a high number of pensioners, voters without degrees and many with no educational qualifications at all, as well as being an area with above-average unemployment levels. This is the type of community in which Ukip typically thrives. It is also a very white area.

Carswell himself is an interesting personality. Characterised as everything from a maverick genius to a rightwing maniac, he has certainly been shaking up the political narrative somewhat from the Tory backbenches. As well as being an intense europhobe - he was one of the rebels who voted for a referendum on EU membership in 2011 - he also has some rather more unusual views about direct democracy and modernising party membership.

He co-founded the Conservative party's Direct Democracy group, is an advocate of proportional representation (forming an odd alliance with Green MP Caroline Lucas in 2010 on pushing for PR on the electoral reform referendum), and believes a digital revolution will create true democracy, publishing a book at the end of last year called The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy. He told me in July last year that he'd pitched a plan to the Prime Minister to "Spotify the Tory party", focusing on a localist agenda and driving membership using a tiered online system. David Cameron hadn't responded to his ideas then, and it doesn't look like he ever did.

Carswell was elected in 2005 in Harwich, winning the seat back from Labour, but he ran once before, unsuccessfully, against Tony Blair in Sedgefield in 2001 - perhaps the first example of his underdog spirit of taking on the powers-that-be. Winning a big majority in Clacton in 2010 has given him even more of boost, and he is a high-profile figure both locally and in the Westminster world, writing a regular blog on the Telegraph. It was Carswell's motion of no-confidence in 2009 that led to the first time in 300 years that a Speaker was removed from the House of Commons; it was over Michael Martin's (the then Speaker) handling of the MPs’ expenses crisis.

He is in favour of installing a recall system in which MPs can be ousted, and also of open primaries for elections, stemming from his belief that faith in Westminster politics needs to be restored by more direct democratic methods. This view explains his decision to trigger a by-election, rather than remaining as a Ukip MP until the election. Another exciting, though perhaps less significant, fact about Carswell is that he made a citizen's arrest in January this year, chasing and catching a shoplifter in a branch of Boots in Clacton.

Carswell, though often critical of the Tory leadership, had a change of heart in January this year, when he warned his fellow eurosceptic backbenchers that rebelling was the wrong way to go about achieving an EU referendum, arguing that a Conservative victory was the only way of achieving it. The Spectator reported at the time his own comments that it was wrong for Conservative MPs to lack discipline:

What is it we now want, guys? We’re going to face a reckoning with the electorate in just over a year’s time. We’re two points behind the Labour Party. We can do this – we really can do this. If we lack discipline, we’re going to have five or six appalling years in opposition to dwell on it.

However, it seems that a long summer recess for reflection and the rise and rise of Ukip's prominence, coupled with his large majority and the "Ukip-friendly" nature of Clacton, has made him rethink his relationship with the party leadership once and for all, preferring to leave the Tory tent.

Carswell is being hailed as Ukip's first MP, although back in April 2008, Bob Spink, then MP for Castle Point, defected to Ukip until November that year, when he was recast as an independent. However, Carswell is likely to be the first Ukip candidate to beat the Conservatives - and any other party for that matter - to a seat in parliament.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

Show Hide image

Inside Big Ben: why the world’s most famous clock will soon lose its bong

Every now and then, even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care.

London is soon going to lose one of its most familiar sounds when the world-famous Big Ben falls silent for repairs. The “bonging” chimes that have marked the passing of time for Londoners since 1859 will fall silent for months beginning in 2017 as part of a three-year £29m conservation project.

Of course, “Big Ben” is the nickname of the Great Bell and the bell itself is not in bad shape – even though it does have a huge crack in it.

The bell weighs nearly 14 tonnes and it cracked in 1859 when it was first bonged with a hammer that was way too heavy.

The crack was never repaired. Instead the bell was rotated one eighth of a turn and a lighter (200kg) hammer was installed. The cracked bell has a characteristic sound which we have all grown to love.

Big Ben strikes. UK Parliament.

Instead, it is the Elizabeth Tower (1859) and the clock mechanism (1854), designed by Denison and Airy, that need attention.

Any building or machine needs regular maintenance – we paint our doors and windows when they need it and we repair or replace our cars quite routinely. It is convenient to choose a day when we’re out of the house to paint the doors, or when we don’t need the car to repair the brakes. But a clock just doesn’t stop – especially not a clock as iconic as the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster.

Repairs to the tower are long overdue. There is corrosion damage to the cast iron roof and to the belfry structure which keeps the bells in place. There is water damage to the masonry and condensation problems will be addressed, too. There are plumbing and electrical works to be done for a lift to be installed in one of the ventilation shafts, toilet facilities and the fitting of low-energy lighting.

Marvel of engineering

The clock mechanism itself is remarkable. In its 162-year history it has only had one major breakdown. In 1976 the speed regulator for the chimes broke and the mechanism sped up to destruction. The resulting damage took months to repair.

The weights that drive the clock are, like the bells and hammers, unimaginably huge. The “drive train” that keeps the pendulum swinging and that turns the hands is driven by a weight of about 100kg. Two other weights that ring the bells are each over a tonne. If any of these weights falls out of control (as in the 1976 incident), they could do a lot of damage.

The pendulum suspension spring is especially critical because it holds up the huge pendulum bob which weighs 321kg. The swinging pendulum releases the “escapement” every two seconds which then turns the hands on the clock’s four faces. If you look very closely, you will see that the minute hand doesn’t move smoothly but it sits still most of the time, only moving on each tick by 1.5cm.

The pendulum swings back and forth 21,600 times a day. That’s nearly 8m times a year, bending the pendulum spring. Like any metal, it has the potential to suffer from fatigue. The pendulum needs to be lifted out of the clock so that the spring can be closely inspected.

The clock derives its remarkable accuracy in part from the temperature compensation which is built into the construction of the pendulum. This was yet another of John Harrison’s genius ideas (you probably know him from longitude fame). He came up with the solution of using metals of differing temperature expansion coefficient so that the pendulum doesn’t change in length as the temperature changes with the seasons.

In the Westminster clock, the pendulum shaft is made of concentric tubes of steel and zinc. A similar construction is described for the clock in Trinity College Cambridge and near perfect temperature compensation can be achieved. But zinc is a ductile metal and the tube deforms with time under the heavy load of the 321kg pendulum bob. This “creeping” will cause the temperature compensation to jam up and become less effective.

So stopping the clock will also be a good opportunity to dismantle the pendulum completely and to check that the zinc tube is sliding freely. This in itself is a few days' work.

What makes it tick

But the truly clever bit of this clock is the escapement. All clocks have one - it’s what makes the clock tick, quite literally. Denison developed his new gravity escapement especially for the Westminster clock. It decouples the driving force of the falling weight from the periodic force that maintains the motion of the pendulum. To this day, the best tower clocks in England use the gravity escapement leading to remarkable accuracy – better even than that of your quartz crystal wrist watch.

In Denison’s gravity escapement, the “tick” is the impact of the “legs” of the escapement colliding with hardened steel seats. Each collision causes microscopic damage which, accumulated over millions of collisions per year, causes wear and tear affecting the accuracy of the clock. It is impossible to inspect the escapement without stopping the clock. Part of the maintenance proposed during this stoppage is a thorough overhaul of the escapement and the other workings of the clock.

The Westminster clock is a remarkable icon for London and for England. For more than 150 years it has reminded us of each hour, tirelessly. That’s what I love about clocks – they seem to carry on without a fuss. But every now and then even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care. After this period of pampering, “Big Ben” ought to be set for another 100 or so years of trouble-free running.

The Conversation

Hugh Hunt is a Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.