It seems likely that we are on the edge of a new stage in UKIP’s existence, with Douglas Carswell looking likely to become the party’s second MP (Bob Spink’s legacy as the answer to that political trivia question is safe) and the first to be elected as a UKIP candidate. The polling is so overwhelming that Simon Hughes is humourously cheering on the Tories in the hopes of holding onto his record for the largest swing in UK political history (44.2%, and political nerd kudos to those of you who knew that). At least one UKIP MP for the seven months left before the next General Election seems a racing certainty.
Whether Mark Reckless will be joining him is a little more uncertain, he showed a nine point lead over the Conservatives in a Survation poll of the constituency but with the Tories yet to even name their candidate due to deciding to hold an open primary (with the rhetoric of a â€œpeople’s candidateâ€ being a clear counter to UKIP’s â€œpeople’s armyâ€ slogan).
What will be interesting to watch is how the dynamics of that new situation plays out. UKIP has for some time now been predominantly a one-man band, Nigel Farage plus very occasional guest. Carswell will officially become leader of UKIP in Parliament and inevitably gain a lot of media attention, something boosted by journalists keen to test the Carswell-Farage relationship, and also Tory-UKIP relations.
Carswell of course comes with a very public record of what his individual views are and a preference for airing them. Which is one thing as one MP among three hundred, it’s rather another as one among one. Where Carswell principles conflict with UKIP policy which will win out and how will that balancing act unfold, how much power can Farage really wield over the party’s only MP, it seems unlikely that he’ll be willing to take a back seat of the UKIP tandem.
If UKIP get a place at the election debates, which one will be invited (or would an open invitation being an entertaining if unlikely option).
Incidentally if Mark Reckless does retain his seat he brings with him a strong record of rebellion against the whip, leaving open the enticing possibility of UKIP party policy being followed by neither of their MPs. If he doesn’t it’s likely to cool the feet of any other potential defectors (and vice versa of course).
UKIP will talk of a new era when the returning officer confirms their victory (or more probably before the formalities have been finished), an important step along their political road. They will gain a great amount of publicity and credibility with their first by-election win. But how they live with the victory will be their next challenge, and will be watched with interest to say the least.