Ukip has won its first by-election: Douglas Carswell is the party’s first elected MP. In a stunning night for the party, it also ran Labour mighty close in Heywood and Middleton—coming in just 617 votes behind.
Nigel Farage’s party has, for the first time, the credibility of having an elected MP. It will have someone at Westminster who can ask David Cameron questions at PMQs, put down amendments to government legislation and speak in Commons debates. This bridgehead in the Commons will help Ukip garner the publicity it needs to keep its bandwagon rolling.
Carswell’s victory in Clacton by the thumping margin of more than 12 thousand votes is a personal triumph for him. Following his defection from the Tories to Ukip, he honourably gave his constituents a chance to pass their verdict on his decision—and they have resoundingly returned him to parliament.
The winner of the Clacton by-election is one of the most intellectually interesting of modern politicians. He will leave his mark on what remains of this parliament and on his new party. His acceptance speech in the early hours of this morning was typically thoughtful, and showed that he wants to modernise Ukip. He urged his new party to temper its passion with compassion and warned that it must be a party for first and second generation Britons too. He also argued that the era of cartel power was coming to an end in everything from banking to politics.
In terms of the Tory Ukip fight, the battleground now moves to Rochester and Strood. If the Tories can defeat the other defector, Mark Reckless, then they will feel that they can slow Ukip’s momentum. But Ukip will use Carswell’s victory to say that, pace the Tories’ claims, if you vote Ukip, you get Ukip. If Reckless becomes Ukip’s second elected MP, then the Tories really will be thrown into a panic because Rochester and Strood is far less favourable territory for Ukip than Clacton and Reckless doesn’t have the personal following that Carswell has.
Ukip’s result in Heywood and Middleton, coming within 617 votes of Labour, was almost as remarkable as its triumph in Clacton. Ukip’s 39% vote share was, until the Clacton result came in, the party’s best ever by-election performance and a demonstration that it has the potential to cause Labour real trouble in its northern heartlands. I suspect that Labour MPs will be far more worried today about Ukip than they were just a few months ago.
What’s for certain this morning is that Ukip has arrived at Westminster—and in some style. It now can’t be dismissed as just a European Elections protest vote.