In the wake of yet another defection from the Conservatives to UKIP It would be very easy for party members such as myself to gleefully celebrate and expect the good times to continue unhindered. Indeed, as it happens I did do my fair share of celebrating at the party conference on Saturday. I also predict that more MPs will join the People’s Army in the coming days and weeks. However we must now recognise that UKIP need to tread somewhat more carefully from this point onwards.
Defections should be welcomed with open arms, if those defecting are of the correct credentials and will follow the superb precedent of standing for re-election as has been set by Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless. UKIP must ensure that every MP who is accepted into the party is of the highest calibre, at least matching those who have already made the move. If that involves turning away potential defectors, then so be it. The issue is that if members defect and are not of honourable character, bring excess baggage or, worst of all, are not re-elected in their subsequent by-election, the UKIP fox, of whom Nigel Farage so often speaks, will have been shot for good.
There have already been two defections. The damage has already been done. As I saw one commentator remark: “the thermonuclear device has been set off above Cameron’s head”. No amount of Grant Shapps spin can reverse a nuclear explosion. As such, if no MPs fit the bill from now on then accepting below-standard defections should not be seen as the answer. UKIP have already caused yet another political earthquake. The party is in a position where it can, and should, be selective.
Additionally if exclusively Tory MPs jump ship, it does leave an open goal for Labour who have called UKIP “More Tory than Tories” in recent days. We are not a Conservative splinter group and it should not be even plausible that we are. Labour MPs, of whom many would not be out of place within UKIP, must be encouraged to join too. This would do much good for UKIP in the North of England where Paul Nuttall is positioning UKIP as the natural opposition to Labour.
One of the most important things that UKIP possesses is originality. It is hard to disagree from wherever you stand, that UKIP really are different. By coming from very small origins, being called cranks and Gadflies (and much worse), having to deal with unnecessary problems too often of their own making and finally emerging through it all to win a national election this year has a romanticism about it. Many members and activists wish to see a form of this politics continue. They are not opposed to progress, to defections or to electoral success- far from it. However they do not want the heart ripped from their party, or as one delegate told me at the weekend “another Kilroy-Silk”. Therefore it is important that defecting politicians who have met the criteria are not parachuted into senior positions without having worked their way through the ranks. If that does happen then the party stalwarts will start to question, like the end of Animal Farm, if UKIP truly is different from the mainstream parties at all.
Originality, localism, accountability. These three things, coupled with the clean slate of never having broken a manifesto promise, are some of UKIP’s best selling points. One badly handled or unsuccessful defection could spell the end of them all. The membership are unanimously in favour of accepting more members but most would agree that UKIP should ensure that each one will benefit the party, and the party only. After all, they are in a position to do so.
By David Poole (Young Independence member)
Twitter handle: @davepoole_26