Which Tory MPs will be next to defect to Ukip?

As Mark Reckless celebrates his victory, will there be further defections from the Conservative benches?

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Mark Reckless claims to have spoken to a handful of Tory MPs about defecting to Ukip. He told me that they were keeping things “under review” until the by-election result. Now he has won Rochester and Strood, will this trigger defections from those Tories who are already tempted?

It is unlikely to happen immediately if so, as Ukip and the MPs in question would want to wait for a moment when their move would have most impact. Also, there is a chance that Reckless’ majority today, 2,920, being far less than his majority back in 2010 when he won as a Conservative MP (9,953), and the chance the Tories could win the seat back next May, could put off potential defectors altogether – particularly those in more marginal seats.

However, these are unpredictable political times, and it is worth looking at who is most likely to jump ship.

First, there are those who have been identified as having a better chance of getting re-elected if they ran under a Ukip banner than a Tory one. These are:

 

Nigel Mills, Conservative MP for Amber Valley

Martin Vickers, Conservative MP for Cleethorpes

David Nuttall, Conservative MP for Bury North

Chris Kelly, Conservative MP for Dudley South

 

I revealed earlier this month that all four of these MPs had not visited Rochester and Strood, in spite of the Chief Whip’s instructions to Tory MPs to visit at least three times before the by-election. Michael Gove included them on the “0 visits” section of his “Roll of Honour” emails. However, Martin Vickers visited the day after that email was sent, and tells me: "I will never ever even think about going Ukip".

In fact, none of them have expressed that they are tempted to defect, but then Reckless denied his intentions up until the eve of Conservative party conference. I found out that Chris Kelly had CCHQ in jitters during Tory conference; although he is standing down, one of the rumours at the time of him announcing he wouldn’t be running in 2015 was a potential flirtation with Ukip.

Then there is another group of likely defectors, which I think could be accurately described as the Usual Suspects. Those MPs with eurosceptic views who have long made life difficult for Cameron, and felt they haven’t been listened to by the party leadership. These include:

 

Peter Bone, Conservative MP for Wellingborough

Philip Hollobone, Conservative MP for Kettering

Mark Pritchard, Conservative MP for the Wrekin

John Baron, Conservative MP for Basildon and Billericay

 

What is notable about these members of the “Awkward Squad” is that they generally represent safe seats, which makes them more likely to feel secure about making the leap to Ukip.

The Conservative party is zealously denying that there could be further defections. Michael Gove said yesterday he was “100 per cent convinced” no others would defect. William Hague on the Today programme this morning was pushing the line that the general election is a “real choice” between having Cameron or Ed Miliband in No 10, and that only Cameron can deliver an EU referendum. He seemed to be talking to his own party as well as voters.

And even Nigel Farage at the by-election count in the early hours today insisted there would be “no more by-elections”. While it is not necessary to trigger a by-election by crossing benches, both Carswell and Reckless have set a pretty clear precedent.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.