Yesterday, the (now UKIP) Conservative MP for Clacton, Essex, Douglas Carswell, took many (including myself) totally by surprised when he announced that not only had he defected to UKIP but also that he would resign to recontest his seat under his new party colours.
This is the first time since 1982 that this exact situation has happened-and the last time it happened, Bruce Douglas-Mann (who defected to the SDP from Labour) lost heavily in the resulting by-election in Mitcham and Morden of 1982, finished third in 1983 but still allowed Conservative Angela Rumbold to hold that seat by splitting the Labour vote, and he never subsequently returned to Parliament.
In an interesting twist, UKIP's general election candidate, Roger Lord, is refusing to stand aside for Mr. Carswell, in the same way that, returning to the 1980s, Michael O'Halloran (MP for Islington North back in 1982) refused to stand aside for John Grant (MP for Islington Central, a seat that no longer exists,back in 1982) when both defected to the SDP but when it was John Grant who was selected for the redrawn Islington North. Partly as a result of the split potential SDP vote in Islington North in 1983, Jeremy Corbyn managed to win for Labour and he has been the MP for Islington North ever since (although given his left-wing views and the Green potential in Islington, I wish he would defect to the Green Party sometime).
I thought after the Conservative gain (whilst they were in government) of the 1982 Mitcham and Morden by-election (and only because the SDP split Labour's vote; the Conservative vote share actually decreased slightly in that by-election), that stunt would never again be repeated in British political history. In my opinion Mr. Carswell is taking a big risk here even if the bookmakers have already given him very favourable odds to win the upcoming Clacton by-election (1/3 even though the writ has not even been moved yet!) as there is some Labour potential in Clacton-he could just end up splitting the Conservative vote heavily SDP-style (and as with Mitcham and Morden push his old party into third place potentially).
Clacton's demographics are very favourable to UKIP, even by Essex standards, and I believe it is only because of Douglas Carswell himself that UKIP did not stand a candidate in Clacton (created from the now-abolished Harwich seat). More than half the electorate of Clacton is over the age of 55 (polls have shown consistently that older people are more favourable towards UKIP in the same way that younger people are more favourable towards the Green Party), UKIP has done rather well in many coastal towns in the UK in local elections recently, and Clacton has some significant areas of deprivation, Jaywick being the most notorious.
Given the publicity that has already been given to this news story in its very first day, it will be interesting to see who exactly stands in the Clacton by-election, likely to be called later this year.
As with the two other Parliamentary by-elections I have commented on in my blog, I believe we Greens should stand a candidate in the Clacton by-election, even if we have no chance of winning. We stood in Clacton in 2010, after all, and this time I think we can at least beat the Liberal Democrats, whose already weak vote share is likely to come crashing down. Beaches all across Britain have also been damaged by pollution, and they are important to our environment; this is another reason we Greens should campaign well in coastal towns like this. I also believe that we Greens can also provide a left-wing alternative to the heavy right-wing battle between Conservative and UKIP that will inevitably take place. Also, unlike UKIP, we will select our candidate locally and democratically (UKIP by-election candidates are just selected on the whims of a centralised executive committee,which has angered the aforementioned Roger Lord).
In other news, there was a by-election in the ward of North Jesmond, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, yesterday, and the results were as follows:
Newcastle-upon-Tyne MBC, North Jesmond: Lib Dem 711 (52.5%), Labour 320 (23.6%), Conservative 117 (8.6%), UKIP 112 (8.3%), Green 94 (6.9%).
I will just say that this is a heavily student ward, but the students will not be returning there until next month-hence the easy Liberal Democrat hold when in other months they would have lost wards like this at by-elections. But it is an important reminder for us Greens, in light of Individual Electoral Registration which could be an issue for students, to make sure we maintain an active presence in university towns and cities where we are generally strongest.
Also, on the subject of elitism and education, I would like to say that it is not just disparities in wealth and education that are the cause of the level of elitism at high levels of British society-it is a failure to respect diversity and a culture that does not sufficiently promote cohesion ,compassion, and merit. Abolishing fee-paying private schools in the same way Finland did is a good start, but the way in which we raise our children also needs to change-materialism interferes heavily with our children's socio-emotional development and that partly explains why children in England are some of the least happy in the world. If we also abolished the monarchy and the House of Lords, our children would grow up more ambitious, more hopeful, and more willing to try their best.