Douglas Carswell is the first elected Ukip MP. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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 deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

Show Hide image

David Osland: “Corbyn is actually Labour’s only chance”

The veteran Labour activist on the release of his new pamphlet, How to Select or Reselect Your MP, which lays out the current Labour party rules for reselecting an MP.

Veteran left-wing Labour activist David Osland, a member of the national committee of the Labour Representation Committee and a former news editor of left magazine Tribune, has written a pamphlet intended for Labour members, explaining how the process of selecting Labour MPs works.

Published by Spokesman Books next week (advance copies are available at Nottingham’s Five Leaves bookshop), the short guide, entitled “How to Select or Reselect Your MP”, is entertaining and well-written, and its introduction, which goes into reasoning for selecting a new MP and some strategy, as well as its historical appendix, make it interesting reading even for those who are not members of the Labour party. Although I am a constituency Labour party secretary (writing here in an expressly personal capacity), I am still learning the Party’s complex rulebook; I passed this new guide to a local rules-boffin member, who is an avowed Owen Smith supporter, to evaluate whether its description of procedures is accurate. “It’s actually quite a useful pamphlet,” he said, although he had a few minor quibbles.

Osland, who calls himself a “strong, but not uncritical” Corbyn supporter, carefully admonishes readers not to embark on a campaign of mass deselections, but to get involved and active in their local branches, and to think carefully about Labour’s election fortunes; safe seats might be better candidates for a reselection campaign than Labour marginals. After a weak performance by Owen Smith in last night’s Glasgow debate and a call for Jeremy Corbyn to toughen up against opponents by ex Norwich MP Ian Gibson, an old ally, this pamphlet – named after a 1981 work by ex-Tribune editor Chris Mullin, who would later go on to be a junior minister under Blai – seems incredibly timely.

I spoke to Osland on the telephone yesterday.

Why did you decide to put this pamphlet together now?

I think it’s certainly an idea that’s circulating in the Labour left, after the experience with Corbyn as leader, and the reaction of the right. It’s a debate that people have hinted at; people like Rhea Wolfson have said that we need to be having a conversation about it, and I’d like to kickstart that conversation here.

For me personally it’s been a lifelong fascination – I was politically formed in the early Eighties, when mandatory reselection was Bennite orthodoxy and I’ve never personally altered my belief in that. I accept that the situation has changed, so what the Labour left is calling for at the moment, so I see this as a sensible contribution to the debate.

I wonder why selection and reselection are such an important focus? One could ask, isn’t it better to meet with sitting MPs and see if one can persuade them?

I’m not calling for the “deselect this person, deselect that person” rhetoric that you sometimes see on Twitter; you shouldn’t deselect an MP purely because they disagree with Corbyn, in a fair-minded way, but it’s fair to ask what are guys who are found to be be beating their wives or crossing picket lines doing sitting as our MPs? Where Labour MPs publicly have threatened to leave the party, as some have been doing, perhaps they don’t value their Labour involvement.

So to you it’s very much not a broad tool, but a tool to be used a specific way, such as when an MP has engaged in misconduct?

I think you do have to take it case by case. It would be silly to deselect the lot, as some people argue.

In terms of bringing the party to the left, or reforming party democracy, what role do you think reselection plays?

It’s a basic matter of accountability, isn’t it? People are standing as Labour candidates – they should have the confidence and backing of their constituency parties.

Do you think what it means to be a Labour member has changed since Corbyn?

Of course the Labour party has changed in the past year, as anyone who was around in the Blair, Brown, Miliband era will tell you. It’s a completely transformed party.

Will there be a strong reaction to the release of this pamphlet from Corbyn’s opponents?

Because the main aim is to set out the rules as they stand, I don’t see how there can be – if you want to use the rules, this is how to go about it. I explicitly spelled out that it’s a level playing field – if your Corbyn supporting MP doesn’t meet the expectations of the constituency party, then she or he is just as subject to a challenge.

What do you think of the new spate of suspensions and exclusions of some people who have just joined the party, and of other people, including Ronnie Draper, the General Secretary of the Bakers’ Union, who have been around for many years?

It’s clear that the Labour party machinery is playing hardball in this election, right from the start, with the freeze date and in the way they set up the registered supporters scheme, with the £25 buy in – they’re doing everything they can to influence this election unfairly. Whether they will succeed is an open question – they will if they can get away with it.

I’ve been seeing comments on social media from people who seem quite disheartened on the Corbyn side, who feel that there’s a chance that Smith might win through a war of attrition.

Looks like a Corbyn win to me, but the gerrymandering is so extensive that a Smith win isn’t ruled out.

You’ve been in the party for quite a few years, do you think there are echoes of past events, like the push for Bennite candidates and the takeover from Foot by Kinnock?

I was around last time – it was dirty and nasty at times. Despite the narrative being put out by the Labour right that it was all about Militant bully boys and intimidation by the left, my experience as a young Bennite in Tower Hamlets Labour Party, a very old traditional right wing Labour party, the intimidation was going the other way. It was an ugly time – physical threats, people shaping up to each other at meetings. It was nasty. Its nasty in a different way now, in a social media way. Can you compare the two? Some foul things happened in that time – perhaps worse in terms of physical intimidation – but you didn’t have the social media.

There are people who say the Labour Party is poised for a split – here in Plymouth (where we don’t have a Labour MP), I’m seeing comments from both sides that emphasise that after this leadership election we need to unite to fight the Tories. What do you think will happen?

I really hope a split can be avoided, but we’re a long way down the road towards a split. The sheer extent of the bad blood – the fact that the right have been openly talking about it – a number of newspaper articles about them lining up backing from wealthy donors, operating separately as a parliamentary group, then they pretend that butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths, and that they’re not talking about a split. Of course they are. Can we stop the kamikazes from doing what they’re plotting to do? I don’t know, I hope so.

How would we stop them?

We can’t, can we? If they have the financial backing, if they lose this leadership contest, there’s no doubt that some will try. I’m old enough to remember the launch of the SDP, let’s not rule it out happening again.

We’ve talked mostly about the membership. But is Corbynism a strategy to win elections?

With the new electoral registration rules already introduced, the coming boundary changes, and the loss of Scotland thanks to decades of New Labour neglect, it will be uphill struggle for Labour to win in 2020 or whenever the next election is, under any leadership.

I still think Corbyn is Labour’s best chance. Any form of continuity leadership from the past would see the Midlands and north fall to Ukip in the same way Scotland fell to the SNP. Corbyn is actually Labour’s only chance.

Margaret Corvid is a writer, activist and professional dominatrix living in the south west.