A betrayal of partisan alignment through the act of switching political allegiance is not an uncommon phenomenon in British politics. Members of Parliament flitting between parties during their political career is rarely an event with any volume of magnitude, most people recognise it as what is it; a quest undertaken by an individual to fulfil the attainment of personal electoral power. Yet today we have seen a defection which has caused a real stir within the British political landscape: Conservative MP for Clacton Douglas Carswell has jumped the Tory ship and defect to UKIP, thus inciting a subsequent by-election for his constituency.
The reasons cited by Carswell for his decision to betray the party he has served for all his adult life relate to Europe and apparent inequality within Westminster. Unusually for a politician, his principles are not those which aim to reflect public opinion in an attempt to accumulate popularity; Carswell has been an adamant Eurosceptic since before it became popular, having fought to introduce a tougher stance on the EU to the Conservative Party for many years prior to the recession. It is undeniable that he has chosen his time to switch allegiance carefully, what with the next General Election looming, but his decision to cross the floor cannot be one labelled as shallow, but rather a genuine show of personal belief.
Unfortunately, Carswell’s integrity will have a significantly positive impact for UKIP, which will be exploited indefinitely in the media by party spin doctors. They have been granted a unique opportunity to find themselves in the press for something other than hapless controversy and blatant political ineptitude, remedying to a degree their damaged image. More importantly, this defection has granted UKIP another opportunity to finally gain an actual foothold in Parliament. After failing miserably to win their first seat in the Commons during the hotly contested Newark by-election, they look poised to have Carswell re-elected in Clacton thanks to the incumbency advantage he holds. To have an MP sitting in the House would present UKIP an enormous amount of soft-power which they can wield, finally demonstrating to the electorate the party’s ability to weigh-in on issues of domestic importance, rather than just those regarding the European Union.
Whilst UKIP will be off celebrating, the Tories are left to pick up the pieces. As an individual, Carswell is not one detrimental to Party success, and his loss in this sense will merely be a minor blow. However, his claims that the Conservatives and Cameron in particular are not “serious about real change” with regards to the EU will cost them dearly. Since UKIP began gaining traction, Cameron has been running on a mandate of genuine change in the relationship between Britain our Continental neighbours, having promised a referendum and tougher stances against undesired EU legislation. Carswell’s defection has now demonstrated to the electorate that this has in fact not manifested itself practically at all, and will cast severe doubt in the mind of anyone who is still undecided as to whom they should trust to answer the European question.
Thanks to Douglas Carswell, the Conservatives now have a great deal of explaining to do in order to remedy the damage he has caused, a situation which Nigel Farage will exploit wholeheartedly. It would be wise to monitor how this story plays out; it is one which could easily influence the outcome of the 2015 Election.