So poisonous were the relations between Nigel Farage and Douglas Carswell that no-one will have been surprised at the latter’s resignation from Ukip, nor the pleasure it generated among Farage and his supporters. It takes something to cheer the departure of your only MP; along with the funding that goes with it.
Yet the irony is that in theory Farage and Carswell ought to have been soulmates in Ukip. Both are naturally social conservatives but economic liberals. In contrast to many Ukip members, neither are attracted by protectionism or anti-globalisation – two sentiments which also unite many of Donald Trump’s supporters. From what we know about the political views of Ukip members, both Farage and Carswell stick out as being a little to the right. Members as whole, a YouGov survey discovered last October, see themselves as being predominantly right of centre but a little to the left of the rest of their party. Moreover, they want their party to shift towards the centre ground. When asked who the party should target in the next general election, 73 per cent said they thought they should target mostly Labour voters and only 15 per cent Conservative voters. Neither Farage nor Carswell were best-placed to exploit the opportunity created by Labour’s collapse – although Paul Nuttall, who on paper ought to be ideal to attract votes away from Labour, doesn’t seem especially adept at this either.
With a Conservative government enacting Britain’s withdrawal from the EU (and making a move on grammar schools too, another touchstone issue for many Ukip supporters) there really doesn’t seem a lot of reason for natural conservatives to continue to support Ukip, and Douglas Carswell seems to appreciate this. For Eurosceptic working-class Labour voters who think their party has been overtaken by metropolitan liberals, on the other hand, there is every reason to look for another party. But not the one that Nigel Farage helped create, based as it was around liberal economics, suspicion of regulation and open to free trade (while simultaneously anti-migration). His is the politics of the golf club: pro-business but uncomfortable with outsiders.
Ukip is an anti-immigration party or it is nothing, Nigel Farage has asserted. There is some truth in that in that what does unite Ukip voters is a strong feeling that immigration should be drastically cut back (though that seems to be a dominant feeling of every party’s supporters, even LibDems – see table 9 here). Maybe that will turn out to be true, but I can’t help thinking – from an entirely dispassionate position – that Ukip’s best hope of a long-term future lies in drumming up the kind of voters who Donald Trump managed to pull onside: the rust-belt manual workers motivated by one thing above all else, how to stop the Chinese taking their jobs. For that, it might be better if Nigel Farage as well as Douglas Carswell left the party.