Douglas Carswell, Direct Democracy and the Clacton By-Election.
When Quentin Davis defected to Gordon Brown’s Labour party in 2007, Matthew Parris remarked “when a Tory crosses the floor to Labour, the Average IQ of both parties goes up…” which is one of the most deliciously bitchy political insults of all time. Few called for a by-election. You had an opposition struggling for unity, facing a dying administration. The defectors, back-stabbing, politicking and so forth, like in the dying days of Major’s administration, is part of the theatre of politics. And vital to its function.
Defecting to another party not in a governing coalition or vice versa is called ‘crossing the floor’ and is also an important way by which the legislature (parliament and especially the commons) can hold the executive (the Government and its payroll vote) to account. If the executive cannot command a majority for at least ‘confidence and supply’ in the commons, you MUST call a general election. By leaving the Government over issues like the corn laws, or Europe, or civil liberties, you can prevent the Government enacting its program. You’re sending the strongest possible signal to your party’s leadership. And if it’s well timed, or comes in a large group, you can bring down a Government.
Or in Quentin Davis’ case, you can leap aboard a burning ship right at the moment a torpedo slams into the magazine, to the sound of Guffaws of “good riddance, you silly prat” from one’s former colleagues.
Which brings me to Carswell. If he had decided to stay in the commons, he would be able to support the Government in bringing the law calling for a 2017 EU referendum through parliament. He could have continued to support the government in rolling back some of the civil liberties that were taken by the Labour party in its 13 years of goose-stepping nanny-statism. He would have been able to do this as a UKIP member with a confidence and supply agreement with the coalition from the opposition benches. Much like the Ulster Unionists in 1995-7.
Instead he’s decided to take the Manor of Northstead (MPs can’t actually resign, they have to be sacked and the means by which this happens is to take a paid office of the crown incompatible with a sitting MP), and so trigger a by-election. This seems likely to set a precedent, and everyone’s applauding him for it. But if this becomes a convention that crossing the floor triggers a by-election, the executive will be significantly strengthened at the expense of the legislature, and this is not what Carswell claims to want at all.
“But it’s Democratic” people will say. “They elected a Tory, and a Tory they should have”. But we live in a representative democracy. Carswell is strongly in favour of direct democracy, so be clear, I am not accusing him of hypocrisy, just counter productive stupidity. For when an MP crosses the floor in a safe seat in future, the Governing party will be able to parachute a loyal apparatchik into the seat, and use the party machine to ensure victory. If a a sitting MP in a marginal constituency goes, electoral considerations, rather than the role of holding the Government to account come to the fore when deciding what to do on policy and law-making.
Carswell is strongly in favour of the right of recall too, which suggests a very different conception of the role of an MP to mine. Indeed, it is this issue that caused him to jump ship, not “Europe”, as much of the media will have you believe. I think we elect people of character to scrutinise legislation, and if necessary, kick up a stink, while trusting the electorate to judge him in the whole, every 4-5 years or so. Carswell thinks an MPs job is to reflect the brute and unexamined opinions of his electorate, and pander to their prejudices, which is why he voted against gay marriage (Which is also why I suspect this has been long-planned to occur up at a time to cause maximum damage to Cameron and conservative electoral chances). The state shouldn’t control our lives, but to the extent it does, it should be more than mob rule, which is why I am only half in favour of more direct democracy. Unfortunately, UKIP is all about mob rule, a bunch of pitchfork-wielding ignoramuses who neither know nor care what makes the world turn, or why.
The Tories will throw the kitchen sink at Clacton, and will probably be able to win (update: I no longer think the Tories will win, thanks to Lord Ashcrofts polling – when the facts change….), as local Tories are highly pissed off, and electorates don’t reward turncoats. The Tories will be able to mobilise an Anti-UKIP vote from Liberal and even Labour supporters as they did in Newark. I suspect he’ll look at the morons, bigots and buffoons ranting away with the certainty that only the truly mediocre mind can generate, and realise that he’s thrown away a seat at the top table and the chance to influence policy and drag the centre ground his way, for what? The leadership of a party which will never amount to anything, and which is the principle obstacle in the way of its own stated main aim. Carswell may just regret yesterday for the rest of his life.
But given UKIP is far more comfortable with the idiot certainties of opposition than in having a genuine platform for government, he may just fit right in.
A very fine piece of work; it dissects, q. brutally, the reality of what we have to deal with. There is something about UKIP which attracts those who only seek the low-hanging plums.
He's fallen for the ruse, I suspect…