Douglas Carswell is the first elected Ukip MP. Photo: Getty
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Ukip takes Clacton: what does this mean?

Douglas Carswell is Ukip’s first elected MP. What does this mean for politics and his party?

Ukip has won the Clacton by-election by 12,404 votes.

Here are the full results:

Ukip - 21,113 votes (59.7 per cent)

Conservatives - 8,709 votes (24.6 per cent)

Labour - 3,957 (11.20 per cent)

The Green party - 688 (1.95 per cent)

Liberal Democrats - 483 votes (1.37 per cent)

Turnout was 51 per cent.

 

Using Nigel Farage’s language ahead of yesterday’s by-election in Clacton, there has been a “shift in the tectonic plates of British politics”. Douglas Carswell, the former Tory MP who defected from the party in August, is Ukip’s first elected MP. The party that has been spooking the Conservatives and Labourites alike throughout this parliament has finally placed an elected representative in parliament.

Here are five thoughts on what this means:
 

If you vote Ukip, you get Ukip

One of Ukip’s biggest obstacles come the general election is going to be overcoming the “wasted vote” concern. Angry protest votes are usually reserved for local and European elections, when the electorate can send a message to our leaders without much to lose. But the idea of “wasting” one’s vote in a general election is different, particularly with First-past-the-post making it tough for smaller parties to win seats.

Accordingly, the Conservatives’ attack on Ukip has long been “Vote Ukip, get Labour”. This is less effective now the electorate can see an elected Ukip MP in the House of Commons. An interesting footnote, however, is that, in contrast, Labour’s attack line that Ukip is “more Tory than Tories” has more resonance now, what with Carswell having defected from the Conservative party. Following another Tory defection from Mark Reckless, Ukip will ideally be looking to pinch a Labour figure next.

 

Not all Kippers are the same

The off-putting image of a stereotypical Ukip figure – generally unreconstructed hyper-Thatcherite views, old-fashioned, fusty, backward-looking, “closet racist”, etc – is undermined by Carswell’s win. As an individual, he is more nuanced, with big ideas about harnessing technology to resurrect grassroots political engagement: “iDemocracy”. He even allied with the Green MP Caroline Lucas in 2010 to push for proportional representation to be included in the referendum on electoral reform. And that was before he was a member of a party that would benefit from such a system. As a Tory backbencher, he shook up Westminster with his ideas about direct democracy and a recall system to oust MPs.

This adds an interesting dimension to the make-up of Ukip’s party leadership. We are already reading about the split between “Red Ukip” and the party’s older school, as it opens up another front in its anti-Westminster war, attempting to win blue-collar support off Labour. Now there is also a bit of a personality split. Carswell with his radical libertarian modernisation certainly jars with the blokey, laid-back image of Farage puffing on a fag and sipping from his Thatcher mug.

British Future’s Sunder Katwala is interesting on this, analysing Carswell’s “future-facing Ukip” with his pro-immigration views and optimism. This is in spite of the fact that Carswell, on the surface, seems like the discontented southern shire Tories whose support Ukip looks towards. There isn’t exactly a power struggle here yet, and no real indication that Carswell would look to lead the party, but he could well face a challenge taking Ukip in his desired direction as its only MP.

 

A purple heartland on the east coast

This by-election result has geographic significance. Ukip is polling best on the east coast of England, all the way from Great Grimsby in the north down to Norfolk. Lord Ashcroft’s polling puts Ukip as the most popular party in constituencies nearby to Clacton, Thurrock and Thanet South (where Farage is standing).

Star Ukip academics and authors of Revolt on the Right, Rob Ford and Matthew Goodwin, write about the east coast’s significance:

Ukippers need seats with a competitive local politics. Our analysis suggests that many of these can be found in a large cluster along the east coast from Durham to Norfolk: Great Grimsby (Labour), Great Yarmouth (Conservative), Waveney (Conservative), Hartlepool (Labour) and Bishop Auckland (Labour).

A sitting Ukip MP in Clacton will do much to galvanise surrounding Ukip campaigns in Essex, Kent, Norfolk, and Cambridgeshire. Local Ukip candidates and activists will have seen – and probably been involved in – the energetic campaign Carswell has run in Clacton. This example, along with positive polling, will boost morale, which could well translate into votes come May 2015.

 

Labour pains

Labour won in yesterday’s other by-election, holding Heywood and Middleton in Greater Manchester after the death of its Labour MP, Jim Dobbin. But only just. Its majority in the erstwhile safe seat was slashed by Ukip to 617. Its majority plummeted by 90 per cent. As I reported yesterday morning, there were concerns about the prominence of Ukip’s campaign in the seat, and this competition caused some in the party to question Labour’s national message as a good enough buffer to Ukip in northern seats. One Labour aide campaigning in the constituency told me the party’s leadership is “completely out-of-touch” with the concerns of voters such as Heywood and Middleton’s.

And in Clacton, Labour lost a substantial number of votes, falling from 10,799 in 2010 to 3,957. This is further proof that the party cannot be complacent about Ukip’s rise, viewing it simply as a convenient threat to the Tory vote. The party will surely revel in the Tories losing a seat to Ukip, but it should have done better in that result itself, not least in Heywood and Middleton, and must avoid distraction from the task of keeping its voters from drifting to Ukip.

 

By-election blues for the Blues

And as for the Conservatives, this Clacton win is very bad news. A combination of Carswell’s strong personal following in the area, and it being an incredibly “Ukip-friendly” seat, meant that it was an almost certain win for their former backbencher, yet it is still a big blow. In spite of the trouble Ukip has caused the Tories, they could always dismiss it as a protest party, one with no credibility and no real power. Now it has an MP, they can no longer lord it over Ukip that they are an organised, established party with real influence; one of their favourite lines having always been that they are the only ones with the actual power to deliver an EU referendum.

The Clacton result is also likely to throw the Tories into panic-mode as they approach the Rochester and Strood by-election, where they will be fighting their second defector Mark Reckless in a far more closely-contested battle. All a bit much for a party whose election strategist, Lynton Crosby, was so keen to avoid by-elections that he insisted the EU Commissioner job should go to a peer, not a sitting Tory MP.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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