Coffee House

Douglas Carswell: the rebel with an unclear cause

28 August 2014

Anyone who would rather not live in a Britain run by Ed Miliband and Ed Balls should be dismayed at Carswell’s defection to Ukip. He is an original, intelligent and eloquent MP who has done much to help the Prime Minister form the more radical parts of his agenda. For a while, I thought that this was his game plan: to avoid frontbench positions, and engage constructive opposition – which is democratic tugging of the party leader from the vantage point of the backbenches. I defended him against critics who said he was an attention-seeker whose ego would one day explode.

Today, it’s harder to defend him. He was elected to a parliamentary term as a Conservative MP and his triggering a by-election now inflicts damage in the party to which he owes his political career. And on a day where it has reduced Labour’s lead to one vulnerable point.

This is all the more surprising given that when I interviewed Carswell back in January for our podcast, he told me that he had decided to give up rebelling, because he believed it was time to support the PM. He said he realised that the only chance of an EU referendum was if Cameron was re-elected, and that all of this rebelling would only benefit Miliband – who loathes the idea of letting Brits decide on our future with Europe. Here’s the interview, with the direct quote below:

‘I’ve changed my mind in the past week. Shortly before I came over here I took my name off the two Immigration Bill amendments precisely because I think this is getting daft. What the amendments were asking for was basically parliamentary posturing. It’s undeliverable…

I think the key point is David Cameron’s Bloomberg speech [which offered an in-out referendum in 2017]. I had been at the thick of it when it came to plotting. I had been doing everything I could to try to get people to vote against the government on Europe policy. Once he agreed with what I was trying to get him to agree with, which was to hold an in-out referendum in 2017 – [I then say to the rebels] why are we doing this guys? We’ve got what we want.

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Exactly. With Cameron’s in-out-out pledge, he went as far as any Eurosceptic could reasonably expect. And then Carswell starts to lay into the rebels who are destabilising Cameron.

I’m a little bit dismayed that sometimes the tactics adopted by people who feel as strongly about Europe as I do undermine the strategy. The in-out referendum offered by Cameron in his Bloomberg speech was an absolutely key moment. Since then I’ve found my break button, my pause button.

Well, today Carswell found a different button. A self-destruct one, perhaps. Anyway, here were his concluding words to the rebels:-

I think we all need to find our break button, our pause button. Even then I think I made a mistake in putting my name to these amendments, I’ve taken them off. In hindsight, I think I would have done things differently and I think it was perhaps unnecessarily antagonistic.

If you look at the fact Cameron has promised an in-out referendum, that’s an extraordinary commitment and so much of what we’ve done since has obscured that fact. I just think we’re doing this wrong.

And his final barbed words for the sceptics destabilising Cameron?

Maybe some politicians aren’t as good at politics as they think they are and actually we need to actually learn and change.

Today, Carswell has changed. I’m not sure that he has learned. And that referendum he so longs for will be that much less likely as a result.

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Show comments
  • stevetierney

    Good grief you ‘Kippers are a stuck record, if you’ll excuse the dated reference. Everybody who doesn’t agree with you is a “tribal” or a “Cameroon” or whatever other insults you think will make you sound cool. You bang on about how “everybody thinks this and everybody thinks that” because you think everybody thinks what you think. They don’t. People think all different things.

    We get the message though: You don’t like Cameron, sorry ‘Cameroon’, how remiss of me. You don’t like things that are “bien pensant” and you think the Conservatives are (insert random pretentious or ridiculously dramatic insult here.) You think all the people who hold a different view to you are “craven”, or “sock puppets” or “traitors.” You think the EU is the most terrible danger in the whole entire scary massive terrifying world – and if only you weren’t so busy you’d “take up arms” and Fight For Freedom From The Overlords.

    Knock yourselves out! You only live once.

  • Ben

    Rubish. Allegiance is to the electorate rather that to either of the EU controlled Westminster teams.

  • Ordinaryman

    Carswell owes nothing to the pseudo-conservative party that is currently sitting in Parliament. He has done the right thing in the right manner and in doing so has ‘put his money where his mouth is’, knowing that by following his conscience he has put his political career on the line. His views have been made plain, so what else could he do? Contrary to what some people think, there was no easy way for him to deal with the situation. I respect him for doing what he has done, it’s a pity there are not more people with the same level of integrity in government.

  • evad666

    The EU is the real reason we have 1400 plus girls raped by followers of Islam. We have had enough and will sweep the Camerloon sock puppets aside to resolve the matter.

  • NeilMc1

    Only a die hard, head in sand Tory could believe Cameron has any intention of allowing a genuine referendum.

    He has moved the Tory party to meet the LibDems and is a self avowed EUphile and has said he would never allow the UK to leave the EU.

    How could any genuine conservative vote for him or the party any more.

  • John Byde

    Perfectly put, Machina22 and John Dalton! There is a remarkable similarity between the conservative parties in the UK and US at present. Their establishments still believe that can choose the wettest/RINO leader and the dumb conservative voters will still turn out to vote for them. This tactic and the “if you vote for the fringe parties you’ll let in those nasty socialists” are finished forever. Conservatives are sick of being treated wtih contempt by their various leaderships. People like Carswell are convinction politicians – now one with convictions can stay near people like Cameron or Obama for long. Cameron is learning painfully that unless he does what a conservative leader is supposed to do, he is toast.

  • Zionist lackey

    Conservatives like Fraser Nelson have described Douglas Carswell’s sudden despatch into the arms of Ukip as self-defeating; as it is only David Cameron who is offering an in/out referendum in 2017 (if elected).

    The trouble with this argument is that it requires a great deal of trust by the electorate in David Cameron: something which Cameron does not inspire among the electorate generally, and many within his party’s rank and file.

    First of all, he only agreed to the principle of a referendum because of the inroads that were being made by Ukip into his party’s support; and had openly abused Ukippers as swivelled eyed nutters: while his enthusiasm for a referendum has been wholly tactical and unprincipled. Cameron believes in remaining in the EU; which makes one wonder how serious will be these negotiations and what he is prepared to demand in terms of any re-negotiation – this he has not told us.

    Douglas Carswell is right to distrust Cameron on this one issue. The prime minister has not bulleted the areas of reform he seeks to negotiate over. So Mr Carswell’s action is far from self-defeating, but wise after Cameron’s phoney promise over the signing of the Lisbon Treaty before the last election.

    Douglas Carswell is a rarity among today’s politicians. He did not announce his departure by crossing the floor of the house and hang on until May 2015; but choose to let the people of Clacton decide his fate in a by-election, and I hope the people of Clacton reward his honesty.

  • Fergus Pickering

    Not happy. Resigned. Don’t forget Brown and Balls kept us out of the Euro. Cameron wanted us in.

  • David

    Frasier, I think you’re a fine writer with a keen intellect, but I’m surprised you don’t sense that the tectonic plates of British politics are moving. Things aren’t going to go the way Cameron wants simply because he wills it.

    Given how destructive and poisonous the EU is for Britain, we cannot simply go into a referendum with our lead deal-maker saying he wants to stay. We have to expect to leave completely and then consider a loose alliance if the offer is made. Nothing less than this is acceptable for the future survival of our country. Douglas Carswell senses that, why don’t you?

    • the viceroy’s gin

      …because he’s a common writer with a dull intellect.

      • David

        Why do you read the Spectator then, if you’re so superior to its editor? Intellectual voyeurism?

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Why do you ask?

          • David

            Good answer, considering…

            • the viceroy’s gin

              Er, that wasn’t an answer, lad.

              • David

                You give me yours, and I’ll give you mine, Dad.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  No, I don’t make a habit of giving you trolls anything but scorn, lad.

  • global city

    Fraser. You made yourself look exceedingly stupid on Sky News paper review last night suggesting this……but why repeat it here?

    Carswell’s announcement and his answers to the press questions were/are crystal clear.

    Pity you are too much of a Tory to understand that.

  • The Masked Marvel

    “Anyone who would rather not live in a Britain run by Ed Miliband and Ed Balls should be dismayed at David Cameron’s defection from Conservative values. He is an unoriginal, hapless, and politically correct PM who has done much to prevent his ministers from advancing the more radical parts of their agenda.”

    There, fixed it for you, Fraser.

  • rtj1211

    His cause is as clear as can be: he wants out of the EU.

    What is more unclear is the best strategic approach to achieve that.

    He has reached a conclusion that Cameron et al are committed EU participants and have little intention of reforming the EU in a manner which Mr Carswell would be happy with.

    He really is left then with little alternative than to try a new option, which in his case was either resigning the Tory Whip and standing as an independent, joining a different pre-existing party or founding a new one. He has decided on the middle of those three options.

    The question which still remains is whether he will be a UKIPer for the long-term or, like certain Scottish Nationalists, he will see UKIP as a means to an end before rejoining a traditional Liberal Free Trade-style party upon achievement of Brexit (just as certain Nationalists have little truck with Salmond’s economic policy but are prepared to back him to achieve independence before founding a new Scottish Conservative party or the like).

    That will depend no doubt on how UKIP evolves, whether the Pied Piper’s band of merry men will include sufficient corporatists, protectionists, petty nationalists and anti-foreigner, anti-Muslim, anti-most things people and what happens to the party as and when Mr Farage decides to call it a day…..

    • the viceroy’s gin

      …it won’t include Lib Dumbs who want to go bombs-away in Libya and Syria thus empowering mass-murdering islamofascists, I bet .

      Nor will it include Lib Dumb Levesonista fascists, lad.

  • Gafto

    ‘His triggering a by-election now inflicts damage in the party to which he owes his political career’.

    Douglas Carswell owes nothing to the conservative party. He garnered 53% of the electorate’s vote at the last election and holds a 28% majority. He holds this position because of his stance on Europe and his Conservative politics, not because of the conservative party.

    The Clacton demographic may lend itself to giving a tory MP a safe seat, but the majority with which Douglas Carswell holds Clacton is because of Douglas Carswell.

    The man is a patriot and is principled.

  • Karl Stuebe

    So, about those immigration figures. Pretty crazy stuff…maybe carswell’s got a point about current ineffectual leadership.

  • Sean L

    It’s a class thing more or less. Within certain parameters, Fraser is bound to subscribe to the general luvvie/media/political class consensus. You can’t blame him: it’s more than his job’s worth to contradict it, at least from a conservative angle, which would be tantamount to aligning himself with the “closet racist, fruitcake” tendencies of his readers. In which case invitations to appear as a “conservative” voice would dry up, for the simple reason that he’d no longer fit that predefined role. It’s part of the job description to hold predictable opinions. Thus, for example, the official Spectator line on “climate change” is typically qualified so as not to question the “science” at the root of it.

  • MangoBCoconut

    …when I interviewed Carswell back in January…

    If a week is a long time in politics, how long is 9 months?

  • jmjm208

    The chariot wheels are coming off! Cameron’s support for gay marriage has caused 1,000s of tory party members to leave and they are building up UKIP. God is NOT mocked, The writing is on the wall for Cameron.

    • Glyphkeeper

      How can you be sure that it’s not Allah’s doing?

      • Ordinaryman

        Because if it was Allah, Cameron’s head would be sitting on his chest by now!

  • Denis_Cooper

    “… his triggering a by-election now inflicts damage in the party to which he owes his political career.”

    Yes, of course, in your twisted view he owes everything to the Tory party and nothing to those he is supposed to be representing.

    “And on a day where it has reduced Labour’s lead to one vulnerable point.”


    There’s a poll saying that Labour’s lead is down to “one vulnerable point”?

    Well here’s a poll saying that Labour’s lead is still four points:

    And in case you’ve forgotten, because Cameron and his chums didn’t win the
    last general election the LibDems were able to block the boundary changes
    and so Labour’s opinion poll lead of 4% is effectively a lead of about 11%.

    But would that be a lead of “eleven vulnerable points”?

  • RBcritique

    Dear Mr. Nelson. I’ve always found your views refreshing and considered, but when you say that a referendum is now less likely as a result of Carswell’s actions, it has me wondering. Perhaps David Cameron doesn’t want to win the next election, doesn’t want to be the man who kicked the European bee-hive into the long grass, never intended the British people to have a choice concerning EU membership, and would rather just tread water until another premier arrives and again does nothing. This would certainly make sense, given his record so far. Every big decision has been postponed or been put out to tender. You have laid bare his economic policy, which has at least kept the wolves temporarily from the door, but little more. His education policy, once so promising, now lies in stalemate, his social policy the same. The strong cabinet members are ghosts. His foreign policy is one of paralysis. The Union faces the brink. Home security is threatened to an extent unprecedented in over half a century. There is no housing policy. Our Armed Forces are diminished. Promises of probity have no apparent intention. The list could continue, as it does in The Spectator.

    The Opposition have realised that their best route back to power is to simply desist from any comment and let the government implode. While disastrous for the nation on every level, it is proving a very effective tactic.

    Something’s got to give and it seems that it now is.

    • starfish

      Spot on
      Something has clearly changed – Carswell has learned/realised that Cameron will not or cannot deliver on immigration or the EU and has no intention of parliamentary reform or democracy extension (recall for example)
      What is he therefore to do?
      Seems to me he has taken the right way out – and asked the electorate to support him
      I forsee a large turnout in the by-election and a larger proportional majority
      No doubt Cameron and his acolytes will dismiss it but he is in serious trouble 9 months before a general election

      • Lorenzo

        “Carswell has learned/realised that Cameron will not or cannot deliver on immigration or the EU and has no intention of parliamentary reform or democracy extension….”

        If so, Mr. Carswell has learned what has been obvious as far away as the wilds of America’s Northwest coast for most of Cameron’s tenure.

  • Eyesee

    Not sure myself on Carswell’s decision, but the way you ignore the elephant in the room is stunning. David Cameron is leading the Conservative party in office as if it was Tony Blair’s Labour party, which has also pushed the Real Labour party further to the Left. To say that Carswell is wrong to abandon a weak, Left leaning ‘leader’ to join a party that is much more Conservative in its policies is very strange. UKIP have many faults and perhaps Carswell can best serve them by putting them on a proper political track. He can’t do worse than Cameron.

    As to this much pedalled referendum, well I’m sure Miliband doesn’t want too much democracy but only Cameron actually has a track record for lying about cast-iron guarantees, so his referendum is certainly not certain in my book. And even so it is based on lies, inasmuch that Cameron keeps claiming that he will negotiate with the EU to return powers. Sorry but a) that is not how the EU works and handing back powers would require a treaty, which won’t happen, but can’t anyway before 2017. Cameron either knows this and doesn’t care that he is lying to you (which is possible, he does model himself on T. Blair after all), or that he is stunningly ignorant.

    Either suggests Carswell and in fact any real Conservative should look for different leadership, or a different party. That Britain (and everyone else, but that is their affair) should leave the EU is so plain it couldn’t be more so. It is like Poland holding a referendum on the 5th September 1939 to see how the people felt about Hitler. But what we don’t have is a proper plan to leave; now why would that be? Maybe it is connected to Mr. I will give you a referendum, but I think we should stay in regardless Cameron and his own disinterest in the views of the people.

    And don’t forget in all this, Cameron was elected as a Tory MP too. Where is your opprobrium for that misleading stand?

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