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Clacton Tory MP defects to Ukip
A new Punch and Judy show
Once upon a time a visit to any seaside town in Britain would probably involve an encounter with a Punch and Judy show. This traditional puppet show has seen something of a decline in popularity, perhaps because its themes - domestic violence, child abuse and murder - are no longer seen as a suitable basis for comedy.
Visitors to Clacton-on-Sea in the next few months, however, will be treated to something of a revival of the form. This is because the Conservative MP for the area, Douglas Carswell, has left the Tory party and joined Ukip, in the process resigning from parliament in order to trigger a by-election which he will fight as the Ukip candidate.
The polls suggest that Mr Carswell will sail back into parliament with 64% of the vote, giving Ukip its first Westminster MP, raising the possibility of a breakthrough for the party in the general election in May 2015.
This is a big deal given that the UK's voting system is so bent that even with vast sums of money from its wealthy backers, relentless promotion of the party by all major media outlets, and an estimated 16% share of the vote, it was far from sure that Ukip would get any MPs at all.
Ukip's claims to be an 'anti-establishment' party are pretty thin. Even so, Carswell is an unlikely leader of the people's revolt. Before entering parliament he was employed first by Prince Khalid Ibn Abdullah of Saudi Arabia who owns Orbit TV, the company for which Carswell was corporate affairs manager, and then by Invesco Asset Management, a US owned, UK based investment house.
One year before Carswell entered parliament, the US arm of the company was forced to settle a number of lawsuits from investors who felt they had been short-changed by the firm - to the tune of $450 million. Invesco's registered office is now in Bermuda for some reason.
When Carswell says that "our democracy is being undermined, with remote and unaccountable elites making the key decisions that affect our lives" you'd better believe it!
On entering parliament in 2005, Carswell stated that he was "embarrassed" to be an MP. Perhaps this was because he was one of those who "flipped" his £1 million London home to allow himself to claim £1,250 monthly rent in his constituency. He also claimed £655 for a "love seat", 74p for a washing line and other expenses to the tune of £10,869. In 2011-12 he got £39,442.86 - there is a learning curve to any job.
At the other end of Essex Ukip claimed a major coup in the 2014 local elections in my home town of Basildon - taking eleven of the 12 seats up for grabs, laying waste to Tories, Liberals and Labour alike and rather ironically claiming the scalp of Tony Ball, council leader and architect of the assault on travellers' rights at Dale Farm. By all accounts this left Mr Ball in tears on election night. It is an ill wind that blows no good.
Ukip's success cost the Basildon conservatives their majority on the council - in theory. In a sneak preview of the role that a group of Ukip MPs at Westminster might play, I can report that two of Ukip's leading councillors have been given seats in the minority Tory administration's "cabinet". Do not mention the "c" word though - Ukip (and the Conservatives) are adamant that there is no coalition.
This is the serious side of Douglas Carswell's defection from the Conservative Party and his likely installation as Ukip's first MP. It is unlikely that Ukip will be able to repeat its stunning success in Basildon across the country, but a phalanx of Ukip MPs could do a good service for the ruling class - especially its eurosceptic wing - in the next parliament. The next parliament will see economic and political turmoil no matter which party (if any) gets a majority of seats.
Fringe elements of the Conservative party are talking about an informal deal with Ukip which would involve a 'non-aggression' pact in certain key seats - Ukip did not stand in Clacton in the 2010 election.
The Clacton by-election is intended to solidify Ukip's role as the acceptable channel for the seething anger which is bubbling under the surface of British society - focussing it on the issue of immigration.
However, like a Punch and Judy show, the electoral battle between Labour, the Conservatives and UKIP is a crude and flimsy diversion. It owes its current character to the abject failure of the majority of the trade union leaders to combat grinding austerity and the sustained erosion of the working class's share of society's wealth.
A violent storm could easily blow the whole show away - and such storms are inevitable.