By Adam George
Back in 2014, Douglas Carswell, the Conservative MP for Clacton, defected to UKIP, saying that he wanted to see “fundamental change” in British politics. He won the by-election that followed comfortably, becoming the first ever UKIP representative in parliament.
Carswell had represented the Conservative party in Parliament for almost a decade and the decision was seen as a big turning point in the history of UKIP. His new leader, Nigel Farage, asked how many more MPs would follow suit: “Two, seven, ten?” There were many rumours that other right-wing, Eurosceptic Conservatives might follow Carswell across the floor. However, this wasn’t to be the case, with only Mark Reckless defecting the following month. Reckless did not enjoy the same success that Carswell had enjoyed, losing his seat in the 2015 general election.
Farage’s prediction never came to fruition, and now it has started to go into reverse. Last week Carswell decided to quit the party and sit in parliament as an independent, leaving UKIP without an MP once again. The decision has prompted backlash from within the party and amongst its supporters. Farage has dismissed Carswell as a “Tory party posh boy”, the irony of this comment obviously not apparent to the former banker that once belonged to the Tory party himself. UKIP’s main donor, Arron Banks, has even threatened to stand against Carswell at the next election.
None of this seems to have bothered Carswell, who has claimed that he only defected to pressure David Cameron into promising a referendum and to prevent UKIP from damaging the Leave campaign’s chances of victory. He has said that he leaves “amicably, cheerfully and in the knowledge that we won.” Carswell also believes that there is no need for a by-election as he is not planning on joining another party. Ukip, he added, had achieved its founding aims with the vote to leave the EU. “After 24 years, we have done it. Brexit is in good hands,” he said.
Shortly after the announcement on Saturday, the Ukip leader, Paul Nuttall, said the party had not “benefited financially or organisationally from having Douglas in Westminster”.
“With this in mind, his departure will make no difference to my ability or focus on delivering the reforms I promised when elected as leader,” he said.
Carswell’s departure has created fresh uncertainty over UKIP’s future as Britain begins the process of leaving the EU. When asked about the party’s future, Farage has likened Ukip to “the turkeys that have voted for Christmas”.
“At the moment there is huge trust in Theresa May to deliver Brexit, but I think already we are beginning to see concessions being made, over fishing, the fact that she wants to stay in the European arrest warrant,” he said.
“My guess is that a year down the road, there will be a lot of people who are very frustrated with the Brexit process. So UKIP needs to bide its time and get its messages right.”