The UK Independence Party has a seat in Westminster today (28 August) after a politician defected from the Conservative party, blaming David Cameron's stance on Europe for his decision to quit the Tories.
Douglas Carswell, the member of Parliament for Clacton, announced he was joining Nigel Farage’s Eurosceptic party at a surprise press conference in London. ''The Conservatives aren’t serious about delivering an EU referendum,'' he said.
UKIP will not hold the seat for long as the Eurosceptic backbencher will resign, forcing a high-profile by-election in the run-up to next year’s national elections. Carswell is expected to win it back again.
He is the first UKIP MP since 2008. Bob Spink defected from the Tories for a short lived stint with UKIP. He lost his seat in the 2010 elections, when he stood as an independent.
The defection and by-election will heap pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron, who has promised an in/out referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU if he is elected in May.
Carswell, first elected in Harwich in 2005, was under no obligation to give up his seat after his defection but said it was the ''only honourable thing to do''.
He told reporters he did not believe Prime Minister David Cameron, who was not told of his decision, was ''serious about the change we need''.
''It’s nice to finally have a party leader I actually agree with,'' Carswell added.
.@DouglasCarswell: "the Conservatives aren't serious about delivering an EU referendum."
— UKIP (@UKIP) August 28, 2014
The MP, 43, is popular in Clacton and bookmakers have already made him the favourite to win the by-election. In the 2010 general election, he took 53% of the vote. UKIP did not contest the seat. Labour managed 25%.
Ladbrokes: Clacton by-election odds - 1/3 UKIP 5/2 Cons 10/1 Lab 100/1 LD
— Ladbrokes Politics (@LadPolitics) August 28, 2014
An early supporter of Cameron, Carswell has rebelled in Westminster over European issues. He also led the campaign to eject Michael Martin as Speaker of the House of Commons after the 2009 parliamentary expenses scandal.
Today he said only UKIP could shake up the “cosy little clique''of Westminster.
UKIP national campaign picks up momentum
It’s a major coup for Farage, who confirmed yesterday he would fight for the constituency of South Thanet in Kent. He was widely expected to be the first UKIP MP in the national parliament. Both Clacton and South Thanet are in the UKIP stronghold of the south east of the England.
The three tired old parties don't want UKIP breaking through into Parliament and they most certainly do not want to see me elected
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) August 27, 2014
Farage, who joked Cameron would be watching the press conference on TV, is looking to build on his party’s sensational success in May’s European elections.
UKIP topped that poll returning 24 MEPs, the first time in modern history that neither Labour nor the Tories won a British national election. Cameron’s Conservatives limped in third behind Labour.
Some of those MEPs are standing in the general election. Farage told EurActiv in June that if he or any other UKIP MEPs win a national seat they will give up their Brussels jobs. The EU seats will go to the next candidate on UKIP's party lists, without the need for another vote.
UKIP are expected to return two to three MPs next year but senior party members are hoping for six to eight.
Last week Farage set out his election strategy, which includes tax cuts, stricter controls on benefits and on immigration, as well as taking the UK out of the EU.
Pressure on Cameron over Europe
Carswell’s defection will only heighten Tory anxiety over UKIP poaching their seats in the general election.
That fear could be behind Cameron considering toughening his stance on Europe by threatening to back the Brexit campaign if his calls for EU reform aren’t met.
He suffered humiliation after his bid to block Jean-Claude Juncker’s appointment as Commission President was overwhelmingly voted down by other EU leaders.
Should Cameron, due in Brussels this weekend for a meeting of EU leaders to settle on the next EU Council President, fail to win the election outright, he could be ousted from the Tory leadership.
The expected frontrunner for his replacement is London Mayor Boris Johnson, a Eurosceptic, who this month said Britain has ''nothing to fear'' from life outside the EU if reforms are not made.
Johnson, former Brussels correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, will be standing for election as an MP in 2015.
He challenged Cameron to declare if he was prepared to walk away from the EU, a move widely interpreted as a move to woo Eurosceptic voters in the Tory party.
May 2015: UK general election
2017: Proposed date for UK's referendum on EU membership