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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss