Good morning. “What does a knighthood cost these days?” asks the Mirror‘s splash this morning. They’re talking about Philip Green, and his decision to stump up £363m to fill some of the hole in BHS’ pension pot in a bid to save his knighthood, but they could equally be talking about the ongoing war within Ukip.
Douglas Carswell, the party’s sole MP, is under fire from Nigel Farage and his allies for thwarting Farage’s hopes of a knighthood. Former Ukip spinner Alexandra Phillips tells Anoosh that the “wounds will never heal”, while over at the HuffPo, Owen Bennett reveals that the allegation, made by Farage in the Telegraph, is to be investigated by Ukip’s chair Paul Oakden, with that party’s NEC poised to expel the Clacton MP.
Regardless of how that decision plays out, loudmouth Ukip donor Arron Banks has said that he will run against Carswell at the next election.
The knighthood row is a pretext, of course, for something that Nigel Farage has wanted to do practically since Carswell climbed aboard the Ukip train in August 2014. In classic Ukip fashion, Farage has managed to choose a pretext that makes him look worse, not better, but there you go.
On the one hand, Carswell believes that Ukip’s future is as an economically liberal party, with immigration in the control of the British parliament but not necessarily any lower – and perhaps even higher – than it is now. On the other, Farage believes that Ukip’s future is a hostile message on immigration and an expansive one on welfare.
There are a couple of points to note here. The first is that it doesn’t matter all that much as the Conservatives are going to win Clacton at the next election. Which is one reason why the widely-circulated rumour that Carswell is on his way back the Tory party – both the Guardian and the Telegraph have details – has more than a ring of truth here.
The second – and the more important as far as the future of British politics after Brexit is concerned – is that electorally speaking, Farage is right and Carswell is wrong. There is no electoral majority to be found Britain for the libertarian brand of conservatism that Carswell espouses. In the referendum, while the margin of victory for Leave was so small that the liberal Leaver fringe can honestly claim to be decisive, in the main, people who voted to leave did so for higher public spending and lower immigration, a world away from the vision of Carswell.
Where Carswell was right – and indeed, Vote Leave’s big achievement – is that those messages became less attractive when that message was associated too closely with Farage himself. But Vote Leave’s triumph was light years away from the vision outlined by Carswell and his fellow travellers, both in Ukip and the Conservative Party.
That’s worth watching because of what it means for that threat to turn Britain into a tax haven if we don’t get our way in the Brexit talks. For much of the Brexit elite that is a dream, rather than a threat. But for the average person who backed a Leave vote last June, it’s a nightmare.
Now the difficulties of the Labour party means at the moment, that doesn’t much matter as far as the question of who sits in Downing Street is concerned. But it does matter in terms of what the government does day to day. As we are seeing over business rates and insurance, most Tory MPs are austerity Nimbys: cuts are fine, just not in my constituency. In the long term, Brexit will be no different.
That pressure will mean that Britain’s post-Brexit future will be significantly closer to Faragism than Carswellism, even if Carswell himself finds his way back to the government benches.