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Douglas Carswell: the rebel with an unclear cause

28 August 2014

3:44 PM

28 August 2014

3:44 PM

Anyone who would rather not live in a Britain run by Ed Miliband and Ed Balls should be dismayed at Carswell’s defection to Ukip. He is an original, intelligent and eloquent MP who has done much to help the Prime Minister form the more radical parts of his agenda. For a while, I thought that this was his game plan: to avoid frontbench positions, and engage constructive opposition – which is democratic tugging of the party leader from the vantage point of the backbenches. I defended him against critics who said he was an attention-seeker whose ego would one day explode.

Today, it’s harder to defend him. He was elected to a parliamentary term as a Conservative MP and his triggering a by-election now inflicts damage in the party to which he owes his political career. And on a day where it has reduced Labour’s lead to one vulnerable point.

This is all the more surprising given that when I interviewed Carswell back in January for our podcast, he told me that he had decided to give up rebelling, because he believed it was time to support the PM. He said he realised that the only chance of an EU referendum was if Cameron was re-elected, and that all of this rebelling would only benefit Miliband – who loathes the idea of letting Brits decide on our future with Europe. Here’s the interview, with the direct quote below:

‘I’ve changed my mind in the past week. Shortly before I came over here I took my name off the two Immigration Bill amendments precisely because I think this is getting daft. What the amendments were asking for was basically parliamentary posturing. It’s undeliverable…

I think the key point is David Cameron’s Bloomberg speech [which offered an in-out referendum in 2017]. I had been at the thick of it when it came to plotting. I had been doing everything I could to try to get people to vote against the government on Europe policy. Once he agreed with what I was trying to get him to agree with, which was to hold an in-out referendum in 2017 – [I then say to the rebels] why are we doing this guys? We’ve got what we want.

Exactly. With Cameron’s in-out-out pledge, he went as far as any Eurosceptic could reasonably expect. And then Carswell starts to lay into the rebels who are destabilising Cameron.

I’m a little bit dismayed that sometimes the tactics adopted by people who feel as strongly about Europe as I do undermine the strategy. The in-out referendum offered by Cameron in his Bloomberg speech was an absolutely key moment. Since then I’ve found my break button, my pause button.

Well, today Carswell found a different button. A self-destruct one, perhaps. Anyway, here were his concluding words to the rebels:-

I think we all need to find our break button, our pause button. Even then I think I made a mistake in putting my name to these amendments, I’ve taken them off. In hindsight, I think I would have done things differently and I think it was perhaps unnecessarily antagonistic.

If you look at the fact Cameron has promised an in-out referendum, that’s an extraordinary commitment and so much of what we’ve done since has obscured that fact. I just think we’re doing this wrong.

And his final barbed words for the sceptics destabilising Cameron?

Maybe some politicians aren’t as good at politics as they think they are and actually we need to actually learn and change.

Today, Carswell has changed. I’m not sure that he has learned. And that referendum he so longs for will be that much less likely as a result.

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