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Blogs Coffee House

Douglas Carswell’s defection is a disaster for David Cameron and great news for Ed Miliband

28 August 2014

12:13 PM

28 August 2014

12:13 PM

I like Douglas Carswell. He thinks for himself and has always, I think, added some welcome colour to parliament. But I don’t understand his defection to UKIP at all.

If nothing else it makes it more likely that Ed Miliband will be Prime Minister next May. Which in turn dramatically reduces the likelihood there will be an EU referendum in the next parliament. Which is the the matter with which Carswell is most concerned.

He is leaving the Conservatives because he thinks – correctly – that David Cameron will eventually recommend that Britain remain a member of the European Union. Fine. But it is quixotic to leave a party that can actually deliver what you want and join one that can’t. That is what Carswell has done.

Doubtless it will cheer the Dave Haters and the Better Off Outers but however principled you think Carswell is there remains the ticklish problem that he’s today made an EU referendum less likely not more probable.

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This is the problem with monomania. The problem, too, with romantics and radicals – and Carswell is both, even if he does also have something of a mad scientist air about him – for their senses of principle and proportion are often unbalanced.

Still, this is another reminder – if you ever needed it – that europe will, one way or the other and sooner or later, end Cameron’s career. He can’t take his party with him and nor can he surrender to it. Which leaves him in an impossible position. Some circles resist squaring.

As I say, I quite like Douglas Carswell but it is surpassingly strange for a self-styled libertarian to join the most authoritarian party in British politics. UKIP supporters doubtless come in many shapes and forms but, in general, they tend to relish the crack of firm government. It is not a libertarian party. Quite the contrary, in fact.

I’d expect Carswell to win the Clacton by-election (though perhaps Boris could be persuaded to stand as the Tory candidate?) and he might well win at the general election too. Which is good news for Ed Miliband not just because it makes Cameron’s parliamentary arithmetic more difficult but because, quite plainly, it opens and widens and illuminates the divides on the right that risk costing the Tories dearly.

In other words: what a shambles. I can’t see how Carswell’s cause is improved by increasing the chances of a Labour government (but then I don’t find Europe terrifying or threatening either) and so working against the only party leader who can deliver what you want (even if you subsequently disagree with him on the referendum itself) seems, well, just a little eccentric and vainglorious.

Closer to home – that is, in Scotland – SNP types will crow that this shows that Westminster is still in thrall to UKIP and that Nigel Farage is setting the agenda. England will leave the EU, they will say, and UKIP will be in government in London. Can you afford to risk that? Unionists north of the border can be forgiven for thinking Carswell has timed his defection poorly. Even selfishly.

But there we have it. There’s always been a hint of the beserker about Douglas Carswell. It’s what makes him interesting. Sometimes, however, you can have too much of a good thing and this, I think, is one such occasion.

 

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