When Douglas Carswell defected from the Conservatives and joined UKIP, this site wrote that we should all be very nice about him. This was because he is essentially a member of the conservative family (though certainly not a Tory), and the Party, as that family’s political home in Britain, should be looking to reabsorb its members. The co-author of Direct Democracy – together with our columnist Daniel Hannan – also has ideas that are worth listening to, if not necessarily always acting on.
And we think now that the Conservatives should not only still be nice about him, but nice to him. Theresa May should be seeking to use the talents of people of other parties who have something to offer. Gisela Stuart is one; Carswell himself is another. Might there be a role for him in Uganda, where he was raised during the Idi Amin years? There is also a less elevated reason for cuddling up to him. The Government has a working majority of only 17. May needs all the help she can get.
However, there are limits. Carswell says that he doesn’t now want to join the Conservatives. Then again, he said that he was “100 per cent UKIP” only shortly before he left it. So if he comes round to wanting to rejoin the Party, there is no good reason why he shouldn’t be allowed to. However, this isn’t to say that he can be the Conservative candidate in Clacton in 2020. After all, he walked out on his Association when he joined UKIP. Any such decision would be for them. And they have a local councillor, Giles Watling, who has fought the seat twice.
One of Carswell’s core beliefs is that the old way of doing politics has had its time. He might think today on reflection that the old politics is doing rather well. The two main parties consolidated their grip on the Commons in 2015. The new challenger, UKIP, won no seat other than Carswell’s, and is now shedding its leading lights at both ends – Aaron Banks, with his money, at one; Carswell himself, with his seat, at the other. The latter has learned a terrible lesson, which though not unique will have been painful: Nigel Farage is a tricky man to work with.
No split is too deep and no defection too prominent to collapse UKIP’s core support – at least to date. The odds are that it will carry on kipping, taking votes from the main parties and competing with whatever bandwagon Banks sets up (assuming, of course, that he’s capable of constructing one). But it is unlikely to get a big second wind in its sails without banding together with some new fifth force. A final point: when Carswell left the Conservatives, he called a by-election. Now that he is leaving UKIP, it follows that he should do so again.