Clacton MP Douglas Carswell wants to be a cheerful voice of opposition
- Credit: Archant
Douglas Carswell cuts a lonely figure in the House of Commons chamber. The defeat of his fellow defector Mark Reckless, and the UK Independence Party’s failure to turn nearly four million votes into more than one seat, makes him a parliamentary party of one.
But he is far from downbeat.
Later in the summer his Clacton party will be holding a fish and chip supper about “Why we all need to cheer up”, and when I caught up with him in Westminster he has just received a letter from Speaker John Bercow announcing that as a result of the millions of people who voted UKIP on May 7, he will be given an extra allocation of questions to the Prime Minister.
“By virtue of being UKIP’s only MP, I have a higher profile than I might have done, which I can use to argue things for all those hundreds of thousands of people in the East who voted for UKIP, but because of our disgraceful electoral system didn’t get a UKIP MP.
“I think the most important thing I can do is be a cheerful voice of opposition,” he said.
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But that is not to say that he is sitting there single-handedly deciding the direction of the party.
The party’s 22 Euro MPs drop into parliament every Monday morning at 10am on their way to Brussels to decide on what they are going to do in Westminster and Brussels in the week ahead.
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And despite rumours of UKIP infighting, he pointedly describes how he “sees a lot of Nigel [Farage] who is on “cracking form”, ahead of a referendum on European Union membership.
“He has every right to feel bullish and cheerful,” said Mr Carswell.
Mr Carswell’s optimism is also buoyed by a diminutive Conservative majority of just 12 - something he believes will ensure parliament’s voice is heard.
“I am only one of 650 votes, but I think there will be issues where the UKIP vote could be decisive. Not because there might be votes where it is down to a knife-edge, but because if the party that got four million people’s votes is arguing clearly and consistently for something, it might embarrass the establishment parties into shifting their views.
“Let’s be clear. Constitutionally, and rightly so, I am only here to represent Clacton. Clacton first, last and foremost. But none the less the system also recognises that there are lots and lots of people who voted UKIP. It is because of that I get short money to ensure that I can do more in parliament.”
And he believes the future success of UKIP could depend on his track record.
Turning down hundreds of thousands of pounds of so-called “short money” was a start, but he also talks of his “sense of pride” at leaving parliament with his Oyster Card to get the bus while other ministers pile into their “jags and Prius’”.
So what next for the party?
He believes the party could have done better and made mistakes during the campaign, but rightly points out that it got more votes than the SNP and Lib Dems combined.
“That is one heck of a step forward.”
But it is not Conservatives in his sights. It is traditional Labour voters in the public sector he believe are the key to electoral success.
“We need to be much much better at reaching out to them and being a party that speaks for people in the public sector.”
But success also relies on moving the support base to women, as well as men, and younger people.
As for shaking the racist image, all he will say is that “action speak louder than words”.
The General Election may be five years away, but he is already thinking about what comes next for the party - looking to the Police and Crime Commissioner elections next year.
“I hope that when UKIP selects its candidates, it selects independent minded people who perhaps have a track record in fighting crime, rather than a track record in party politics.
Others at the fish and chip supper may need cheering up, but Carswell already seems to be there.