Following Douglas Carswell’s defection to UKIP and the announcement that there will be a by-election, FleishmanHillard has analysed the top ten political impacts:
1. In Conservative Home’s own words, this is “undoubtedly a blow to the Prime Minister.”
2. Having managed to move the political narrative away from divisions on Europe (and from an issue that only UKIP will benefit from), the Conservative election campaign has been seriously knocked off course and negative headlines will replace positive ones concerning the economy. This is the last thing Lynton Crosby would want.
3. Monday’s return of Parliament and the Conservative Party Conference will now be dominated by the defection and by-election. To a great extent for the next few months control of the political stories of the day will have been lost.
4. Conservative backbenchers – whose nerves are already frayed – will be incredibly rattled by the defection and prospect of a UKIP by-election win. Fear on the backbenches will lead to a potential loss of control by the Whips and more outspoken attacks on the Conservative leadership. History shows that a divided party can be punished at the ballot box.
5. The return of Europe to centre -stage will increase pressure on Cameron to adopt a hawkish position in the run-up to the election. This will likely get worse over the coming months as Jean-Claude Juncker allocates tasks to national EU Commissioner candidates. Anything less than a top economic role for Lord Hill will look like another negotiation failure by Cameron – and galvanize Eurosceptics still further.
6. Potential post-Cameron leadership contenders will increasingly position themselves in the event of a General Election defeat (or even minority Government. The defection also plays into Boris Johnson’s positioning for the leadership given his populist and sometimes critical position on Europe.
7. The defection provides a major boost for Nigel Farage and UKIP. Despite polling relatively well they had lost the momentum they had achieved and the oxygen of publicity. Their chances of winning the seat are good. According to research by the University of Nottingham, Clacton is the most favourable seat for UKIP in the country based on the types of voters living there.
8. However, it will be the first time that Nigel Farage has to share the media limelight – especially with an incredibly media friendly Carswell whose presence will dominate the by-election. Under questioning will this show up the various divisions in UKIP policy (or lack thereof).
9. The Labour leadership can only benefit from all of the above: open criticism from a former Conservative MP; backbench unrest; a possible Conservative loss in a high profile by-election; the rise of UKIP which proportionately damages the Conservatives more than Labour. All of this can only boost Labour support and morale.
10. To the extent that it strengthens Labour’s hand, it actually makes a European referendum less likely.
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November 20, 2023
November 15, 2023