Defection: live! I have never imagined that David Cameron suffers from nightmares – unlike some of his predecessors. But when a top Conservative backbencher shocked Westminster yesterday morning, resigning from the party in a televised challenge to the Prime Minister, Downing Street aides watched with mounting horror.
Short-term, Douglas Carswell has hurt David Cameron, dive-bombed his autumn strategy (a key time to reveal new policies, especially so soon before a general election) and given Nigel Farage and Ukip a shot in the arm. Wearing purple, Mr Carswell is the favourite to win the surprise by-election in Clacton.
More fundamentally, though, he has hastened the Conservative Party clash that Mr Cameron had wanted to dodge til 2017: Europe. The whips have their work cut out in the days ahead. Mr Cameron has never been a wildly popular leader within his party, but his colleagues do recognise his worth. Further defections may be delayed, but the debate, one that Mr Cameron can little afford as he chases a majority in May, has begun.
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