I have just come back from my annual trip to Spain (update on the economy down there to follow, as per recent years) to find a stack of emails waiting, asking me (and everyone else on the Candidates’ List and on any other CCHQ list no doubt) to kindly go to Clacton and fight the good fight at the forthcoming by-election. Thus far, the requests have been polite and nothing like the order requiring everyone to go to Newark the Sunday after Easter or else report to Grant Shapps with a copy of the Beano tucked firmly down the back of our trousers.
Somehow I have managed not to meet Douglas Carswell, but I have read quite a lot of his material including The Plan, the proposals he and Dan Hannan put forward just before the last election to increase localism and to re-invigorate political participation. I have generally agreed with him and so his defection to UKIP is particularly galling. It is also inevitably going to be an unwanted distraction from the campaign for the 2015 general election. Journalists at the party conference later this month will be looking to write stories about the by-election and the impact of the result there rather than focussing on the announcements that we would expect to be made about where the party will be going if we manage to secure a majority at Westminster next year.
Like Carswell, I want a referendum on UK membership of the EU in 2017. As things stand I expect to be campaigning alongside Carswell for the UK to leave. But the more votes UKIP takes from the Conservatives next year the less likely it is that there will be a referendum as a Labour government will not allow one. Joining UKIP is an odd choice for a serious Eurosceptic to make.
He has been praised in some quarters for his decision to resign his seat and ask for re-election as a UKIP member. But there is a general election in 8 months’ time: why not resign the Conservative whip now and fight as a UKIPper next year? As things stand his decision to force a by-election will cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds in admin costs. Is he going to pay for this himself? Or is the taxpayer, of whose interests he portrays himself as a doughty champion, going to have to foot the bill in order for Douglas Carswell to clear his conscience?