A prominent young Tory Member of Parliament, Douglas Carswell, left the Conservative Party for UKIP on Wednesday, shocking the British establishment. Carswell, a libertarian-leaning Conservative known as a champion of open primaries, took the rare, old-fashioned step of resigning at the same time as he switched parties, so that his constituents could register their approval or otherwise. The BBC reports:
If he wins the support of voters he will be the first elected UK Independence Party MP in the Commons. […]On Mr Cameron’s pledge of an in/out EU referendum in 2017, after renegotiating powers back from Brussels, he said the prime minister’s advisers had “made it clear that they’re looking to cut a deal that gives them just enough to persuade enough voters to vote to stay in”.He added: “Once I realised that, my position in the Conservative Party became untenable.”
One MP does not a party make, and UKIP still has a long way to go before it is more than a protest vote. Furthermore, the UK has a long history of eccentric if gifted MPs splitting off to smaller parties, particularly from the Conservatives. Most of the time, both those parties and their careers have sputtered out.Still, the defection of Carswell, who commands respect on both sides of the aisle, cannot but be seen as a blow to PM Cameron and a boost for UKIP. He is certainly UKIP’s highest-profile “get” so far, and his defection could make the next one easier, as well as more likely. Some of the people being named in connection with Carswell—John Redwood, Liam Fox—are heavy hitters. Furthermore, Carswell’s libertarianism will probably prove a useful counterbalance to UKIP’s increasingly populist direction. If this doesn’t tear the young party apart, it could actually be a promising sign, as the same tension lies at the heart of most successful right-wing parties in the Anglosphere. Indeed, the tension in UKIP seems to mimic the divide in the Canadian right, one which eventually led to a revivified Conservative consensus in Canada under PM Stephen Harper.That UKIP echoes Canada more than, say, the FN in France is no coincidence: British dissatisfaction with the post-war,European consensus is taking a far more mild, Anglospheric turn than the resurgent neofascism on the Continent. One interesting twist, however: with regards to the upcoming Scottish referendum, it might actually be in UKIP’s interest for that other disaffected group, the Scottish National Party, to win. After all, Britain without Labour-heavy, leftist Scotland would be a good deal more likely to vote to leave the EU.On the other hand, if UKIP gets its wish and the United Kingdom exits the European Union, Scotland will almost certainly exit the United Kingdom. UKIP may actually be EIP, the English Independence Party; that would be ironic. Many UKIP voters want to enhance Britain’s power and prestige; losing Scotland (and perhaps Wales) might not be the best way to achieve that.UKIP is not a party of racism and hate like some springing up on the continent in these dark days; that doesn’t, however, mean that it has a viable program for resolving the foreign policy dilemmas that have bedeviled Britain since the end of World War Two.