Clacton by-election analysis: Focus switches to Rochester as Carswell victory raises Tory fears

Tories fear scale of his victory may encourage other Eurosceptic MPs to defect

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Indy Politics

Ukip’s stunning performance in the Clacton and Heywood and Middleton by-elections will send a shiver down the spine of both the Conservative and Labour parties.

Although the Tories had long written off Clacton and expected Douglas Carswell to hold his seat, the scale of his victory may encourage other Eurosceptic MPs to defect from the Tories to Ukip.

That could produce what Tories describe privately as their “nightmare scenario” – a series of rolling by-elections between now and the May general election which keeps Nigel Farage’s party firmly in the headlines.

Tory whips are powerless to stop further defections. Over a steak lunch, Mark Reckless assured Michael Gove, the Chief Whip, he would not walk out on the Tories. Then he did, on the eve of the Tory conference.

The stakes in the resulting by-election in Rochester and Strood in the next few weeks are now  much higher.  The Tories will throw the “kitchen sink” at it in the hope of halting the Ukip bandwagon.  But there are now jitters in  Tory ranks: if Mr Reckless holds his seat, it will be a very ominous for the Tories’  general election prospects.

Labour cannot afford to crow.  Its narrow scrape in its heartland seat in Heywood and Middleton will fuel criticism that Ed Miliband is too complacent about the Ukip threat. The Labour leadership’s view is  that Ukip will damage the Tories a lot more than Labour.  But the hand of Labour figures demanding a new approach to Ukip will now be strengthened.  Mr Farage’s claim that his party is the only challenger to Labour in its northern strongholds can no longer be laughed off.

  The real threat is not so much Ukip winning Labour seats. It is this: if Ukip hoovers up working class votes next May, it could deny Labour victory in a clutch of Tory-Labour marginals that will decide the election.

If Labour does not sharpen up its act,  we may look back on Ukip’s defeat in Heywood and Middleton as more significant than the victory which produced its first elected MP in Clacton.

Who's next? Conservative MPs who could defect to Ukip

Chris Kelly

Won Dudley  South with majority of 3,856 in 2010 but is standing down next May.  Has been wooed by Ukip, which is targeting his seat, but insists he will not join Nigel Farage’s party. Has declined to say why he is leaving Parliament.

Philip Hollobone

MP for Kettering.  Majority 9, 904.   He said in 2013: “So many constituencies are now marginal because Ukip is now providing a fourth dynamic into what has previously been a three-party dynamic. I think we could end up with a situation where in selected seats, where the Conservative candidate or member of Parliament is in favour of leaving the EU, they would endorse him in those seats."

David Nuttall

MP for Bury North. Majority 2,243.  Outspoken right-winger. Has said it would be “beneficial” if the Tories and Ukip could agree a “common programme” in order to unite the right in British politics.

Nadine Dorries

MP for Mid Bedfordshire. Majority  15,152. Lost Tory whip after appearing on ITV’s “I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here,” but later reinstated. Has said her constituents some  constituents feel a "huge amount of empathy with Ukip". Hinted at standing on a joint ticket but denied  she will defect.

Jacob Rees-Mogg

MP for Somerset North East.  Majority 4,914. Independent-minded like Douglas Carswell. Has called for an electoral pact between Tories and Ukip. “There are many members of Ukip who are very close to the Conservative Party and there are many Conservatives to whom Ukip looks favourably,” he said in May.

Gordon Henderson

MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey. Majority 12,383.  Wants  Britain to leave the EU and admits he has been “sounded out” by Ukip. But insists the party has “no principles,” saying: “I’d sooner lose than be  a turncoat.”

Peter Bone

MP for Wellingborough. Majority 11,787.  Independent-minded backbencher who hates the Coalition. Has said: “Somehow the Conservatives and Ukip have got to work together and have some sort of [electoral] pact or accord.”