Douglas Carswell's Ukip defection may be first of many, Tories fear

 

Political Editor

Senior Conservatives fear that more of their MPs will defect to Ukip after Douglas Carswell stunned Westminster by jumping ship to Nigel Farage’s anti-EU party.

Tory whips were anxiously ringing round the “usual suspects” tonight in an attempt to head off further defections after the party leadership was caught on the hop by Mr Carswell’s unexpected decision, which was kept a closely guarded secret.

It was a huge setback for David Cameron on his first day back at work after a family holiday in Cornwall. He is now under intense pressure to say he is prepared to recommend an “out” vote if he fails to win a good enough deal for Britain before the in/out EU referendum he has promised in 2017. Mr Carswell said pointedly that the Prime Minister’s policy was not “sincere”, claiming he wanted to secure "just enough" to pretend change was happening in the EU but was not “serious about real change”.

Mr Cameron faces two months of turmoil over Europe. Mr Carswell announced that he would resign immediately as MP for Clacton and force a by-election in which he would stand under a Ukip banner. It will be held in October, possibly on 9 October, casting a shadow over the Tory conference which ends on 1 October.

Mr Carswell, who had a majority of 12,068 at the last election, is the odds-on favourite to retain his seat, which would be a body blow to the Tories seven months before the general election. Ukip is strong in seaside towns with large retired populations, and Clacton is seen as one of its best prospects in the country.

Tory sources said they would “throw the kitchen sink” at the by-election, as they did when they saw off Ukip in the Newark by-election in June. Mr Carswell faced an unexpected obstacle when Roger Lord, Ukip’s candidate in Clacton, refused to stand aside.

Fears of Tory defections will increase after official figures showed that net migration jumped to 243,000 in the year to March, a rise of 68,000 driven mainly by larger numbers of EU nationals coming to the UK. It left Mr Cameron’s pledge to reduce net migration to below 100,000 in tatters.

Tory officials insisted there was “no sign” of a “domino effect” in which other MPs joined Mr Carswell. But some Eurosceptics are bound to be considering their options. Ukip hopes to attract more MPs before the general election and, possibly, a second wave after the election if the party wins a handful of seats to establish a Commons base.

Mark Pritchard, former secretary of the 1992 Committee of Tory MPs, said between 10 and 15 Tories were known to have been in discussions with Ukip in the past but warned that they might well ensure a Labour government if they changed parties.

Writing in The Independent, Mr Farage reveals that he first spoke to Mr Carswell about joining Ukip 18 months ago. Although Mr Cameron’s 2013 pledge of a referendum stopped defections, he started “speaking seriously” to Mr Carswell a few months ago. The Ukip leader was “absolutely thrilled and delighted” by the MP’s decision, saying that forcing the by-election was “the most honourable and decent thing that I have seen in my political lifetime”.

Mr Farage wrote: “The Clacton by-election is of huge significance not just to the future of Ukip but to the whole of British politics. It will indeed be our high noon.”

Mr Carswell, one of about 100 Tory MPs who want Britain to leave the EU, is highly respected at Westminster and some Eurosceptics may be reluctant to campaign against him in the by-election. A passionate advocate of “direct democracy,” he has championed giving voters the right to sack their MPs by being able to force a by-election – a process known as “recall”.

Zac Goldsmith, Tory MP for Richmond Park, urged his party not to be “tribal” towards Mr Carswell, saying he was a “big fan” of "one Parliament’s greatest champions for reform”. Mr Goldsmith said of the defection: “It could be damaging, but it could also serve as a wake-up call on certain issues. If the Government had been more decisive and acted with greater clarity on issues like recall, I suspect this defection could have been easily avoided."

Mr Cameron described Mr Carswell’s decision as "deeply regrettable and counterproductive", arguing that only a Tory Government could deliver an in/out referendum. He said: “Obviously I'll want to make sure [there is] a very strong Conservative campaign in that seat, so they can be properly represented in this Government, and hopefully the next."

In Ukip’s sights: potential targets

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 was later reinstated. Has said some of her constituents feel a “huge amount of empathy with Ukip” and hinted at standing on a joint ticket with the anti-EU party.

Michael Fabricant

MP for Lichfield

Majority: 17,683.

Was the first senior Tory to advocate an electoral pact with Ukip and suggested that Nigel Farage should be made a minister. Sacked from his party post in April.

Jacob Rees-Mogg

MP for North East Somerset

Majority: 4,914.

Has rebelled against Tory leadership in 31 votes since 2010, and called for an electoral pact between the Conservatives and Ukip.

Peter Bone

MP for Wellingborough

Majority: 11,787.

Backbencher who hates the Coalition, regularly attacks Nick Clegg, and has rebelled in 79 Commons votes since the Government was formed.

Philip Hollobone

MP for Kettering

Majority: 9,094.

Has voted against party leadership 153 times since 2010 – more than any other Tory MP. He said in 2013: “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 [Ukip] 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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Taste the difference: Nell Frizzell tucks into a fry-up in Jesse's cafe in east London
food + drinkHow a bike accident left one woman living in a distorted world in which spices smell of old socks and muesli tastes like pork fat
Sport
Luke Shaw’s performance in the derby will be key to how his Manchester United side get on
footballIt's not a game to lose, writes Paul Scholes
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
filmThis Halloween, we ask what makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?
News
peopleFarage challenges 'liberally biased' comedians to 'call him a narcissist'
Arts and Entertainment
Liam and Zayn of One Direction play with a chimpanzee on the set of their new video for 'Steal My Girl'
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery Teacher in Sherwood

£100 - £145 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: Teaching job available wor...

Senior IP Opportunity at Major Firm

vary Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - AN OPENING AT A VERY HIGH Q...

Nursery Manager

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Nursery Manager Long term Ran...

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes