The plot to take over the Tory party

Former Conservative MP Douglas Carswell’s coastal seat of Clacton is Ukip’s “most demographically favourable seat”, notes Matthew Goodwin in the FT. So by defecting and announcing his plan to run as Ukip candidate in the by-election, Carswell has “almost certainly handed the party its first elected member of parliament”.

His defection will be particularly welcomed on the left, where many believe Ukip is splitting the right and “clearing the path” for Labour’s return to power in May 2015. But this is “dangerously misguided”.

Ukip is growing fastest among the groups that Labour is struggling to win over: the over-65s, the working class and those who left education early. It may be attracting disgruntled Tories, but it is “also emerging as the main opposition in many northern heartlands”.

I don’t buy it, says John Rentoul in The Independent on Sunday. Nigel Farage portrays Ukip as a “blue-collar protest movement” appealing to both Labour and Tory voters, but it still draws more disaffected Tories than “alienated Labourites”.

In this context, Carswell’s defection “makes no sense”. He wants to get Britain out of the European Union. But encouraging people to vote Ukip in fact makes it “slightly more likely” that Ed Miliband will be prime minister next year, meaning a more pro-Europe government.

Quite, says Matthew D’Ancona in The Daily Telegraph. Carswell’s “powers of judgment have gone on a long weekend”. I had assumed that if the Tories prevailed next May, Carswell would be “one of the truly formidable Conservative voices” in the ‘Out’ campaign ahead of the 2017 referendum.

He may have persuaded himself that Cameron “will not fight for a meaningful renegotiation”, but if so, why not stay in the party and hold Cameron’s “feet to the flames”. He’s not alone in seriously countenancing an exit; Philip Hammond, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, even the PM, have done so.

Carswell knows exactly what he’s doing, says Matthew Parris in The Times. His defection is “part of a strategy to scupper the EU referendum and take over the Conservative party”. Ignore the “weekend’s cooings” about him: “intellect”, “man of principle”, “no ordinary rebel”. He has renounced his party at a moment “chosen to inflict maximum injury”.

His move could encourage a couple of Tory “zealots” to follow suit and will “hearten” 30 or more on the party’s right. Ukip and the Tory “irreconcilables” are “perfectly relaxed” about Cameron losing the next election. They don’t want the EU referendum that would follow his victory.

They want the present leadership to “stumble and fall”, and a new kind of party led by “a new kind of leader that would form the anti-European right” to emerge. If a Labour victory (which they believe would be short-lived) is the price that has to be paid for their takeover of the Tory party, then “many would be content to pay it”.