I have a great deal of time for Douglas Carswell, Clacton’s defecting MP and an erstwhile Conservative colleague of mine. I think he’s a principled man, and an original thinker. I say that despite once being in direct competition with him: he was one of the final five when I was selected for Northampton South in 2005! Douglas is a very clever guy with a lot of intellectual ability.
The trouble is that deep intelligence and sound judgement sometimes wander down different paths. I am afraid that this is one of those examples.
Only a few weeks ago Douglas was praising the Prime Minister over his views on Europe. Readers of this blog might be aware that I do not always hold Membership Card Number One of Mr Cameron’s fan club. But Douglas did indeed have a point. Indeed many of us – of you – can take credit for moving the Party massively on this. We’ve won a serious political advance that would have been hard to believe a few years ago; to be given the promise from a Conservative Prime Minister of undertaking serious negotiations, and a genuine in/out referendum where you can be the judge. But that is precisely what Douglas, I and others have achieved. It was not an overnight win, but as the result of long and vocal engagement within and across our Party.
Indeed, he had another correct observation to make in encouraging backbenchers to draw together over the EU, when he pointed out back in January,
That would be five or six years of retrogression for the Eurosceptic cause, under a pro-Brussels Socialist fan club. No other party can achieve positive outcomes and Douglas’ actions can only add to the possibility of a Labour Government.
Again, Clacton’s voting mathematics is not that of the country at large. Even if Clacton ‘turns purple’, UKIP won’t sweep to power in the General Election; as we recall from bitter experience, UKIP’s votes largely sap away at the chances of Conservatives getting elected. We all know UKIP takes more votes from the Conservatives than all the other parties put together. UKIP stands at its wildest best only a chance of getting a few MPs, but at a cost of producing a Labour Government.
Hypocritically, it seems that some senior UKIP leaders are now aspiring to elbow aside sitting Conservative Better Off Outers. I’m not quite one myself. Personally, I prefer the nuance of trying to politely talk business first – we can always go back to talking terms again if/when they don’t listen and after a No vote takes us out. That’s a double opportunity to massively hack away at the treaties: I quite like the prospect of getting Two for the price of One.
Douglas does make a very valid point that we haven’t spelled out the red lines for negotiations yet. But many of us believe that we can encourage the Prime Minister and Philip Hammond before the next election. Indeed, you can expect some loud bone-rattling material from me in the coming weeks to do precisely that.
Included in those red lines must be a new framework to address the EU open door on immigration issues. It is one of the poisoned issues of our times. It is the jaundiced by-product of one of the sacred tenets of the European Union, which is free movement of labour. But if those jobs don’t exist, and the Eurozone is driving much of the continent in that direction, there comes a point where an open door policy will fail. I made these points in an open letter to the PM recently, and will continue to make them noisily.