Signalling a sea change? Douglas Carswell and Nigel Farage in Clacton. Photo: Getty
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How Clacton could be a crucial watershed in the history of Ukip

What impact will the Clacton by-election and Douglas Carswell's defection have on the UK Independence Party?

By defecting to the UK Independence Party, Douglas Carswell has almost certainly handed Ukip its first elected member of parliament. Since his announcement, two opinion polls present an incredibly bleak picture for the Conservative party, which could once count on Clacton as one of its safest seats. Survation puts Ukip on a remarkable 64 per cent, an astonishing 44 points ahead of the Tories and prompting some newspapers to talk of an impending "bloodbath". Polling by Lord Ashcroft predicts a similarly depressing result for the Tories, putting Ukip on 56 per cent and 32 points ahead. Ukip was supposed to wither and die over the summer. Instead, and in one stroke, Nigel Farage has pushed his party back into the forefront of British politics.

Ukip was confident about Clacton long before these polls. Carswell's defection had been a long time coming, was known to less than half-a-dozen activists and so Farage had complete control over the story. How the news broke was almost as interesting as the news itself, and will be covered in detail in my next book.

Interestingly, Carswell had also been present at a meeting in parliament where we shared our research with the Conservative party back in April, and when we noted how Clacton had more "Ukip-friendly" voters than any other seat in the country (we will present research to anyone who asks). This helps explain the reaction that Carswell has since received in Clacton. "I'm telling you", said Farage during an interview with the author, "the combination of Ukip and Carswell is like nothing we have ever seen". Similar sentiments were voiced by an organiser on the ground, who reflected after his first day of campaigning: "It was like a religious experience. People running across the street to shake Carswell's hand and praising his decision. I've campaigned for years and never seen anything like it".

But if all of this is true and Carswell does deliver a convincing victory, then what will be the impact of all this on Ukip? As part of a new book on the 2015 general election, I have been following Ukip closely on the campaign trail, spending much of last week with the party as these events unfolded. Based on these observations it strikes me that the impact of Clacton will be three-fold.

A first point centres on credibility. The biggest challenge facing Ukip is no longer organisational. Over the summer, Farage has delegated responsibility, established a "front bench" and covered his flank by improving candidate screening. His primary challenge now is tackling the "wasted vote syndrome"; a belief among voters that smaller parties like Ukip are not credible under first-past-the-post. It is a crushing disease, having ended dozens of political insurgencies before they even got going. A convincing win in Clacton will help Farage to begin to remedy this syndrome. This side of Christmas we may be hearing lots about how Clacton proves that "if you vote for Ukip, you get Ukip".

But this impact might also be more specific. It is a lucky coincidence for Ukip that the one MP who decided to defect is also based in its emerging heartland: the east coast of England. This means that success in Clacton will arrive in the same orbit of seats that offers Ukip its strongest prospects. It will instantly energise campaigns in Essex, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, where branches are probably already sending activists into Clacton to watch and learn from Carswell's operation. "Ukip winning here", may be planted on leaflets across this region. For the main parties the risk is obvious: a domino effect along the eastern half of England.

A second point concerns the all-important business of targeting. Electorally, Ukip's strength is rooted in its potential to rally a relatively broad church of voters: disillusioned Conservatives in the south, blue-collar voters further north, non-voters who abandoned politics after 1997, and the increasingly important protest wing of the Liberal Democrats. In this respect, some argue that Carswell is a mixed blessing for Ukip. While he might bring elected representation he could also upset a delicate balance in the small party between those disgruntled Tories in the southern shires who look a lot like Carswell, and a "purple collar" faction who are pushing Ukip to target left-behind voters in Labour's northern heartlands. This is a complete misreading of Ukip.

This view not only exaggerates the level of factionalism inside Ukip but misunderstands Carswell. Once upon a time, Ukip may well have balanced precariously on different factions, but since 2010 there has emerged a clear consensus in the party over the need to present a broader line of attack. Carswell himself is emblematic of this "broad church" approach, having had to pitch to different groups in Clacton and recognising the need to make an offer to voters who do not get excited about the EU but do feel intensely angry about an Oxbridge-educated elite that seems not to care about them feeling left behind.

And there is some evidence to suggest that Carswell will help Ukip with this coalition. In the Lord Ashcroft poll from Clacton, Ukip has a healthier gender split, is performing better than average across all age groups and is winning over more 2010 Labour and Liberal Democrat voters. Ukip still faces serious challenges, but Carswell's wider appeal will not have gone unnoticed. Will his arrival encourage a broadening of Ukip's anti-establishment narrative? Will his campaign provide a template for how Ukip attempts to rally this wider coalition in 2015, and will the lessons of the Clacton campaign be transplanted into other key targets?

The final point is leadership. Some journalists portray Carswell as a possible rival to Farage, whose four-year term as Ukip's leader is up for renewal in November. But this is also a misreading. Carswell has little incentive to play intra-party politics. He is not personally ambitious in the same way that other politicians are, and did not need to defect in order to save his seat. From hereon he will be content to concentrate on Clacton, and enjoy an elevated stage on which he can share his ideas about political reform and the state of modern-day conservatism. This is why his real significance as a leadership figure for Ukip lies outside of the party. As a respected voice in centre-right circles Carswell could become a crucial weapon in Ukip's arsenal, touring Conservative seats and urging activist foot soldiers from his old party to follow suit by deserting Cameron. Political pundits obsess about defections at the level of MPs, often ignoring the crucial question of whether Ukip actually wants that particular MP. But arguably it is at the activist level where mass defections would seriously damage the Conservative party while bringing further campaigning experience to Ukip.

Ultimately, only time will tell whether these three consequences come to pass. But make no mistake; Clacton may come to be seen as a crucial watershed in the history of the UK Independence Party.

Matthew Goodwin is Associate Professor in Political Science at the University of Nottingham and Associate Fellow at Chatham House. He is co-author, with Robert Ford, of Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in BritainHe tweets @GoodwinMJ

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Westminster terror: Parliament hit by deadly attack

The Met Police is treating the events in Westminster as a "terrorist incident". 

A terrorist attack outside Parliament in Westminster has left four dead, plus the attacker, and injured at least 40 others. 

Police shot dead a man who attacked officers in front of the parliament building in London, after a grey 4x4 mowed down more than a dozen people on Westminster Bridge.

At least two people died on the bridge, and a number of others were seriously hurt, according to the BBC. The victims are understood to include a group of French teenagers. 

Journalists at the scene saw a police officer being stabbed outside Parliament, who was later confirmed to have died. His name was confirmed late on Wednesday night as Keith Palmer, 48.

The assailant was shot by other officers, and is also dead. The Met Police confirmed they are treating the events as a "terrorist incident". There was one assailant, whose identity is known to the police but has not yet been released. 

Theresa May gave a statement outside Number 10 after chairing a COBRA committee. "The terrorists chose to strike at the heart of our Capital City, where people of all nationalities, religions and cultures come together to celebrate the values of liberty, democracy and freedom of speech," she said.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has tweeted his thanks for the "tremendous bravery" of the emergency services. 

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also released a short statement. He said: "Reports suggest the ongoing incident in Westminster this afternoon is extremely serious. Our thoughts are with the victims of this horrific attack, their families and friends. The police and security staff have taken swift action to ensure the safety of the public, MPs and staff, and we are grateful to them."

After the incident this afternoon, journalists shared footage of injured people in the street, and pictures of a car which crashed into the railings outside Big Ben. After the shots rang out, Parliament was placed under lockdown, with the main rooms including the Commons Chamber and the tearoom sealed off. The streets around Parliament were also cordoned off and Westminster Tube station was closed. 

Those caught up in the incident include visitors to Parliament, such as schoolchildren, who spent the afternoon trapped alongside politicians and political journalists. Hours after the incident, the security services began evacuating MPs and others trapped inside Parliament in small groups. 

The MP Richard Benyon tweeted: "We are locked in Chamber of House of Commons." Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner tweeted: "I'm inside Parliament and me and my staff are safe."

The MP Jo Stevens was one of the first to confirm reports that a police officer had been attacked. She tweeted: "We've just been told a police officer here has been stabbed & the assailant shot."

George Eaton, the New Statesman politics editor, was in the building. He has written about his experience here:

From the window of the parliamentary Press Gallery, I have just seen police shoot a man who charged at officers while carrying what appeared to be a knife. A large crowd was seen fleeing the man before he entered the parliamentary estate. After several officers evaded him he was swiftly shot by armed police. Ministers have been evacuated and journalists ordered to remain at their desks.   

According to The Telegraph, foreign minister Tobias Ellwood, a former soldier, tried to resucitate the police officer who later died. Meanwhile another MP, Mary Creagh, who was going into Westminster to vote, managed to persuade the Westminster tube staff to shut down the station and prevent tourists from wandering on to the scene of the attack. 

A helicopter, ambulances and paramedics soon crowded the scene. There were reports of many badly injured victims. However, one woman was pulled from the River Thames alive.

MPs trapped inside the building shared messages of sympathy for the victims on Westminster Bridge, and in defence of democracy. The Labour MP Jon Trickett has tweeted that "democracy will not be intimidated". MPs in the Chamber stood up to witness the removal of the mace, the symbol of Parliamentary democracy, which symbolises that Parliament is adjourned. 

Brendan Cox, the widower of the late, murdered MP Jo Cox, has tweeted: "Whoever has attacked our parliament for whatever motive will not succeed in dividing us. All of my thoughts with those injured."

Hillary Benn, the Labour MP, has released a video from inside Parliament conveying a message from MPs to the families of the victims.

Former Prime Minister David Cameron has also expressed his sympathy. 

While many MPs praised the security services, they also seemed stunned by the surreal scenes inside Parliament, where counter-terrorism police led evacuations. 

Those trapped inside Parliament included 40 children visiting on a school trip, and a group of boxers, according to the Press Association's Laura Harding. The teachers tried to distract the children by leading them in song and giving them lessons about Parliament. 

In Scotland, the debate over whether to have a second independence referendum initially continued, despite the news, amid bolstered security. After pressure from Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, the session was later suspended. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that her "thoughts are with everyone in and around Westminster". The Welsh Assembly also suspended proceedings. 

A spokesman for New Scotland Yard, the police headquarters, said: "There is an ongoing investigation led by the counter-terrorism command and we would ask anybody who has images or film of the incident to pass it onto police. We know there are a number of casualties, including police officers, but at this stage we cannot confirm numbers or the nature of these injuries."

Three students from a high school from Concarneau, Britanny, were among the people hurt on the bridge, according to French local newspaper Le Telegramme (translated by my colleague Pauline). They were walking when the car hit them, and are understood to be in a critical condition. 

The French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has also tweeted his solidarity with the UK and the victims, saying: "Solidarity with our British friends, terribly hit, our full support to the French high schoolers who are hurt, to their families and schoolmates."

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.